Leadership & Productivity

Tales of transition: The skills of veterans can boost business productivity

5 min read

24 December 2018

Kate Cooper details the steps that business leaders can take to support the transition of around 15,000 people who leave the UK Regular Armed Forces each year.

Armistice Day this year marked 100 years since the end of the first World War. The anniversary saw moving commemorations around the world, including memorable scenes of world leaders marching to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Paris.

The end of WW1 also brought about the largest reintegration and retraining of former soldiers in history.

Fittingly, in the same month as the centenary, the UK government announced its first-ever countrywide strategy to support veterans and their families, across six key aspects of their lives: community and relationships, employment and skills, health and wellbeing, finance and debt, housing and contact with the law.

Around 15,000 veterans leave the UK armed forces every year, looking for work in civilian organisations.

As part of the government’s strategy to help them transition into new careers, veterans can access the Career Transition Partnership, which provides one-to-one guidance and training to explore new pathways, for up to two years after leaving military service.

These services are undoubtedly useful but they continue to place the responsibility for successful transition solely with the veteran.

Recent research by The Institute of Leadership & Management, ‘Tales of Transition, highlighted that by ignoring, misunderstanding or misinterpreting the skills of veterans, businesses are missing out on key opportunities to boost their skills base and therefore their productivity.

Utilising the skills of veterans could, therefore, be part of the answer to the UK’s current productivity problem.

The Institute’s research confirmed that veterans are not being effectively employed; 86% of veterans said business managers still don’t understand how military-honed skills can transfer to other sectors.

Accordingly, they are often recruited to jobs that do not fully utilise their skill sets and their potential productivity.

There are effective steps that business leaders can take to access this untapped talent. Organisations can collaborate with a number of charities that offer hiring pipelines. Leaders can develop relationships with these enterprises to more easily access veterans with the precise skill sets their businesses are lacking.

This closer relationship with transition organisations will enable the breaking down of stigmatised perceptions of veterans and promote awareness of their transferable skills.

Forward-thinking business leaders are recognising both the sound business sense and the social responsibility of creative recruitment and are developing strategies to improve access to this pool of untapped talent.

Organisations such as Barclays and BT actively seek out veterans through their own transition programmes. BT has long been a supporter of ex-armed forces personnel, recognising the skills they can bring to the business.

Its programme, ‘Transition Force’ provides one-to-one mentors who offer advice and guidance on how to transition into a civilian career and is enabled by ‘Project Fortis’, an online platform that matches individuals with mentors, events and job opportunities.

Similarly, Barclays’ VETS programme ‘AFTER’ provides work placements, direct employment opportunities, CV and interview coaching, and money management sessions.

Both businesses understand that although ex-military personnel have many skills that are highly prized, such as resilience, adaptability, the capacity to learn quickly, the ability to work in teams and leadership capability.

Many still have difficulty finding a new career once they leave the forces. These programmes proactively break down the barriers to successful transition to a civilian career.

Equally, customised onboarding can help veterans to deepen their understanding of the civilian workplace and understand how their skills translate into the business environment. For example, glossaries of military language translated into ‘business speak’ to support easier communication are already available.

Further to our research, The Institute of Leadership & Management, keen to support the redeployment of leadership capability, created a LinkedIn group to share veterans’ views on employment outside of the services.

This is a useful place for discussion on how military leadership, teamwork and other skills can transfer to the civilian workplace. Businesses can consider setting up similar networks to create communities and share opportunities for veterans.

We are quick to talk about talent shortages and productivity shortfalls but if our focus is on similarity rather than difference, we would quickly discover there are already pools of existing talent that are just waiting to be tapped.

Kate Cooper is head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management.