Why should firms employ armed forces veterans?

Those who have served in the military can provide businesses with valuable skills in the modern and changing world of work, says Ray Lock

I’m still trying hard not to be annoyed by a Canadian HR law firm claiming this morning that home workers were increasingly and insidiously committing ‘time theft’ from their employers. Just another stereotype. 

Our work at Forces in Mind Trust centres on ensuring that those people who have served in the UK Armed Forces make a successful and sustainable transition into civilian life. Our approach is to seek out where people are being disadvantaged and correct it from an evidence-based perspective.

Irritatingly, there are a lot of stereotypes about members of the armed forces. At my first post-service job interview eight years ago, I was genuinely asked whether I would be able to handle getting things done without barking orders. And make my own tea. I’m still not quite sure what decade (or perhaps century) these prospective employers were from.

But, sadly, we see a modern stereotype emerge from a decade of visceral combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some people who leave the services do suffer from physical or mental health problems, the vast majority don’t. Those of us who work with armed forces charities recognise that we need to balance the promotion of stories about those who have suffered in order to raise essential funding, with the continued stereotype of what a veteran looks like.

As the number of ex-service people falls in line with the reducing size of the armed forces, then increasingly, employers rely upon articles such as this to explain why they should consider taking on a veteran. We know, from our research that veterans have certain skills and attributes that equip them particularly well for the modern and changing world of work. Leadership and loyalty are perhaps obvious. Less so are excellent communication skills, the ability to adapt and learn, commitment and great team membership (and building). They have a strong sense of right and wrong.

Again, drawing upon the evidence we’ve seen, we know that firms who employ veterans see them outperform similar non-veterans in a number of areas, and particularly where an organisation has taken extra steps to help the new employee transition – such as through bespoke military induction programmes and mentoring. This is clearly easier with a large organisation and a substantial HR department, but the same principle applies to SMEs.

Perhaps a harder nut to crack is how employers get their hands on veterans in the first place. About 14,000 service men and women leave each year. With around six million SMEs alone in the UK, the chances of actually being able to hire a veteran are fairly small. Practically therefore, we need a better way of matching supply and demand. 

In our recent report, A better working future for ex-Service personnel written by our friends at Good People, we identified that many employers, even those who already had a relationship with the Ministry of Defence through their Employer Recognition Scheme, found it difficult to tap into the market. 

Our solution is to look through the CV (which can be opaque) to the person beyond, either through informed HR systems or, how about this, by adopting a matching programme (think Tinder without the pose). The grit of skills translation and qualifications might follow; but as a readymade way to source talent, it’s an approach we would be delighted to see introduced; it’s our big idea.

Until then, speaking to the Careers Transition Partnership (ctp.org.uk) is the easiest way to get job opportunities in front of military job seekers. Traditional approach, familiar limitations.

Employers unquestionably face challenges if they are to take on a service leaver. But look past the stereotypes, make that extra bit of effort, and then the reward, purely from a business case and not from some misplaced CSR initiative, is likely to be considerable.

Ray Lock CBE is chief executive of Forces in Mind Trust