Employer attitude is key to tapping veterans’ talents

Mark McFall, managing director of Change Recruitment Group. Picture: Contributed
Mark McFall, managing director of Change Recruitment Group. Picture: Contributed
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Ex-forces personnel might need some initial support when entering the job market, but employer misconceptions and outdated ideas about veteran’s abilities means businesses are missing out on great talent.

A recent study by Barclays Bank showed that too many UK employers are still unappreciative of those who have served in the military. Despite their wide-ranging skillsets and strong work ethics, we continue to hear about ex-forces members struggling to make the transition to “civvy street” and to find a suitable job role. Given the increased skills shortage that is currently experienced by employers in Scotland and the UK, this is an issue to be tackled.

In the forces, individuals learn about leadership from the minute they join

Mark McFall

At the root of the problem are misconceptions and outdated perceptions about what military people are like which results in an inherent fear amongst employers of offering positions to ex-forces personnel.

READ MORE: Employers urged to embrace military experience

In a study conducted earlier this year by forces charity Combat Stress, 54 per cent of employers said they felt reluctant to hire veterans due to fears they may suffer from psychological injuries, despite a lack of evidence to support this concern. Nor is it true that ex-forces members are mainly task orientated, merely able to follow orders and intimidating.

In fact, in the military, individuals gain important, transferable skills such as leadership training, decision making and problem solving in high-pressured situations. Add to that rigorous planning and communication skills, and the ability to bring the best out of team members and staff and you have people with skills that are highly sought after in private and public sector jobs.

What employers need to understand is that by recruiting ex-forces personnel you are not getting another cookie-cutter individual, but a unique employee with a glut of transferable and very desirable skills. Some of the larger corporates such as Tesco, Barclays and Jaguar Land Rover have all made firm commitments to veteran employment, and this is pleasing to see. What we now need is for a change of attitude across the board that will see all employers equally committed.

High-profile events and campaigns such as the Invictus Games and Help for Heroes positively identify with military personnel to the extent that, in some respects, the military can be shown to be ahead of the curve in their relationship with employees. Areas such as employee engagement and employee empowerment are hot topics in human resource circles now. However, in the British armed forces, employee empowerment has been a strong focus since World War 1.

Commander David Marquet, formerly of the US Navy, whose book Turn the Ship Around has been very well received as an innovative and necessary way of working with employees, serves as a valuable example of how staff empowerment can be adopted into all areas of work to impact positively on business practice.

Moreover, in most traditional civilian job roles, skills such as leadership and employee management are usually merely learned as one moves up the career ladder and many employees will only have very limited knowledge, or indeed no experience, in leading a team or a group of staff. In the forces, individuals learn about leadership from the minute they join, which should not be underrated.

Saying that, after leaving the military, veterans often lack a clear idea about what they can or want to do, never mind writing standard CVs or knowing how to succeed in typical interview processes. No wonder employers are often left with jargon-filled CVs and little information about the actual hard and soft skills that have been acquired during military service. Support is needed in applying these skills and concepts to the non-military world and to assist those leaving military life to progress into new careers.

However, a two-fold approach is needed. Only a change in employer attitude combined with continued resource allocation for those leaving the sector will bring lasting benefits for ex-military members and will create skilled employees most capable of making a valued contribution to our economy.

• Mark McFall is managing director at Change Recruitment Group