On the day nursing agency boss Karen Chadwick launched her own Hire a Hero Facebook campaign (started after an ex-soldier she employed had struggled for 10 months attending more than 100 job interviews), HR magazine spoke to David Duffy, managing director of the MoD's Career Transition Programme (CTP). He said a lot has improved since before 1998 (when CTP was launched), when only 50% of ex-service people received any sort of resettlement support.
"Of those that leave the forces each year, 96% go through us now," he says. "91% of these find employment after six months, but the majority (70%) find work within a month."
Everyone who leaves gets a training bounty worth nearly £600 to pay for up-skilling training (all Level 3 courses and above, from a preferred list of suppliers), a three-day resettlement workshop and access to the CTP's 40 or so career consultants. They can start dialogue two years before they know they will ‘retire' and can receive support for up to two years after they have left. Anyone can access the service, as long as they have served a minimum of four years in the services. "The outside world can be quite terrifying," says Duffy. "To some extent the military has given them a lifestyle civilians are not used to. But we help them realise they are a very saleable commodity. All these people have spent 70% of their career training; they are highly adaptive to working in new teams. It is the media, unfortunately, that portrays them as maladjusted people."
This level of support certainly does not seem to tally with Chadwick's experience, so are the bad experiences ex-service people say they suffer when looking for work really the norm, or just the unfortunate experiences of the minority?
Nicolas Harrison, a TA solder for six years, recently set up Soldier On, a charity that attempts to place injured solders in the workplace. He says problems finding work is the norm because the MoD is failing to grasp the importance of the resettlement process. "Organisations do not know the true picture of what goes on in the Army; it's not their job to," he says. "But if the Army made more of a virtue of the support they will get at their end of their military life, it would aid their initial recruitment." He adds: "Unfortunately, if employers want to tap into a pool of unseen people, they have to do it all by themselves. It should be the job of the military to do this for them. The CTP does what it can, but what's missing is a slick bridge-building component."
Duffy says he hears this criticism, but counters it by saying CTP does work directly with employers, such as E.ON, Siemens and Transport for London. Tesco is one of the leading employers, and actually runs its own recruitment days specifically for ex-service people.
But the real problem, says Harrison, is the concept of "meaningful work". He questions the CTP's re-employment figures, suggesting many services people are pressured into taking the first job going rather than going into something they actually want. "CTP is giving jobs, not meaningful careers, in my view," he says. "Our jobs board - RightJob - posts vacancies exclusive to leaving personnel and has 2,000-plus jobs at any one time," responds Duffy. "Some of them pay more than £100,000, so again we would disagree with this."
The one thing both concur with is the fact services personnel are a group still heavily under-appreciated by employers. "Companies actually have a perception that the Armed Services is too rigid, and that its people are not flexible enough, when the reverse is true," says Duffy. "It's a myth the military is just one group of people," adds Harrison. "They are multi-talented, and are a microcosm of the rest of society - there are 150 careers in the services, but employers in the outside word forget that we have IT staff, engineers, logistics professionals, etc. And all of these people will be the ones who'll stay half an hour longer at the office to get to job done."
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Avril Adair, HR business partner (supply chain), Carlsberg, is ex-forces herself and is married to a former navy officer, who also works at Carlsberg as a packaging director. For her, applicants that come from the forces are just like anyone else
"It's not that we proactively hire ex-service people, but more that we don't discriminate against anyone," says Adair. "But what we have found though - perhaps because of our need for structure and discipline in the brewing process - is that we do attract lots of service people applicants and have lots of TAs as well. We are a goal-oriented business, very tight job descriptions and that appeals to them." According to Adair, Carlsberg runs specific training courses for employees about how to approach and talk to line managers about their TA lives. "It's designed to make everything more open and transparent," she says. "We don't record the number of ex-service people we have. Our view is that anyone who's been in the forces has had a job just like any other. These people don't just disappear from the work of work when they enter the forces. They are just as skilled. We probably could do more to actively target local barracks, but we have to be mindful of who we target. Being an alcohol company we tend to back away from specifically approaching the 18-21 year-old age group."
Despite being ex-forces himself, Tim Grant, founder of global tracking software company Track 24, says service people should expect to find it difficult to find work straight away
Major Tim Grant was in the Army for eight years as an officer in the Royal Engineers. He left in 1997 in his early 30s, but argues soldiers should not expect the Army to prepare them for life on the outside, and that service people should expect to have difficulty finding work initially. He says: "I accepted that I had learned a bunch of military skills that were not always immediately transferable, and that I was competing for job interviews with people that had 10 years' experience in the corporate world. When I didn't get jobs, I didn't feel discriminated against; I just knew other people had the skills I didn't have."
His answer was to get himself an MBA, which eventually enabled him to get his foot in the corporate door with General Electric. He accepts that it took someone at GE to take a "leap of faith" with him, and that every Armed Forces leaver has to go through this. "Once in, though, you're in, and what I've found is that ex-Army people have tended to shine very quickly because of the military skills they have," he says. "They rise through the ranks very quickly." That said, even he says he won't hire someone just because they're ex-military. "They certainly catch my eye," he says, "but as a businessman myself now, I have to pick the right people for the right job, and not out of sentimentality or sense of duty.
"Business is business, and there's no room for charity. I have recruited ex-military people, but only because my most recent hire had got himself two years' experience in insurance - which was the skill I needed first and foremostly."
Between 20,000 and 24,000 regular personnel leave the Armed Services every year, but military charities say many still struggle to find meaningful careers. HR magazine believes Armed Forces personnel represent a hidden, but highly qualified, pool of labour. Many employers misunderstand the skills these people have and Services staff often undersell the skills they can bring to an organisation. This is why we are launching a special campaign to encourage HRDs to recognise the talents of military personnel and treat these people as untapped talent. We want to hear from you, with a view to holding a special event later on this year. We will showcase the best employers that are recognising the talents of military personnel.