After 20 years in the military, I know first-hand the diversity of skills you gain from a career in the Armed Forces. Military veterans of all ranks and backgrounds bring with them a highly transferable skillset, ranging from leadership and resilience to problem solving and decision making: skills that add real value to a business.
Yet despite the strength of their experience, too many military leavers are languishing in low-skilled jobs, or being passed over for employment opportunities. In fact, over a third of veterans believe they haven’t been offered an interview or progressed through the application process due to their military background.
It’s a situation I’ve seen all too often; you might find that a sergeant major from the Army, who is used to organising a hundred people in the most challenging of environments, suddenly finds themselves underemployed in a job where they can’t fully demonstrate their skills and abilities. It’s a lose-lose situation. Not only is this discouraging for that individual – who could be doing so much more – but it’s a waste of resources for the wider economy.
Barriers to employment
Too many employers are passing over ex-military job seekers and writing off their experience as irrelevant, when it should be seen as a real business asset.
The real cause isn’t necessarily outward prejudice: in fact, I’ve found that the military is generally respected by employers. The problem is that their experience isn’t always understood, which all too often leads to ex-military candidates finding themselves at a disadvantage.
For women, this is especially true. Research has shown that it takes female veterans much longer to find a civilian job than their male counterparts, and that they frequently encounter damaging stereotypes from employers. A third of female veterans report they’ve been asked an inappropriate question at a job interview, including whether they knew how to act and dress in a feminine way, or how they felt about working in a male-dominated environment.
For someone entering the civilian workplace for the first time, these stereotypes and misconceptions can make it even more challenging to demonstrate why their experience is right for both the role and the company.
Challenging cultural bias
There’s a great deal that needs to be done to challenge cultural bias and educate hiring managers on not just the reality, but the value of a military career. More companies need to look beyond CVs to recognise the transferable skills that veterans have, and promote the value that these top candidates can bring to the business world when they leave the forces.
That’s not to say that employers need to soften their interview process at all; far from it. Rather, it’s often as simple as taking into account that military experience may be displayed differently on a CV, or taking the time to develop a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of different military ranks, and how these translate into civilian job grades.
Far from thinking of hiring veterans as a community support initiative or a ‘nice-to-have’, employers need to see it as a business imperative that brings well-trained, highly skilled individuals into their organisation.
Making the most of the value ex-military personnel can bring to UK industry should be seen as a collaborative effort across businesses of all sizes and sectors.
Much can be learnt from sharing best practice on recruiting veterans, and there are various avenues to do this. One of them is VETS – Veterans Employment Transition Support – a social enterprise that brings together charities, businesses and the Ministry of Defence to improve employment outcomes for veterans, employers and the UK economy.
Our ex-military men and women have a wealth of experience and valuable skill sets, and it is time that more businesses took advantage of this. Employers that don’t are missing a real trick.
Stuart Tootal is a former army Colonel, Chief Security Officer at Barclays and Head of the Armed Forces Transition, Employment & Resettlement (AFTER) Programme.
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