The veterans community - employability, skills and learning

Third report from the Scottish Veterans Commissioner advising Scottish Ministers on improving employment and learning opportunities for veterans in Scotland.

Chapter 1 Securing Employment

"There's a whole pool of untapped talent out there, and my advice to any employers considering recruiting from the ex-Service community would be to go for it."

John Kelly, HR Manager at Falcon Foodservice ( case study 6)

It is widely recognised that one of the most important factors in achieving a positive transition from a military to civilian life is securing meaningful and sustained employment. Indeed, for the majority of the veterans community 1 finding a job that provides financial security and personal fulfilment is critical to enjoying success and happiness after a career in the Armed Forces.

The encouraging situation is that this diverse group is largely made up of intelligent, experienced, reliable and motivated people, who are ideally placed to take on many of the highly-skilled and rewarding jobs that are available across Scotland. Given their skills and experience, it might be reasonable to assume that most employers would be eager to recruit and take advantage of their talents. Unfortunately, that is not always the case and, apart from a growing number of major employers who are seeing the benefits of recruiting Service Leavers and veterans, I still encounter a degree of reluctance to hire from the ex-Service community. This is particularly evident amongst public sector organisations and the large number of small and medium-sized enterprises ( SMEs) that make up so much of the business community in Scotland.

One of the consequences of this situation is highlighted in statistics recently published by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which show that former military personnel are less likely to be in work (70% vs. 77%), and more likely to be unemployed (25% vs. 19%), than their counterparts amongst the general population in Scotland 2 . These figures are a big improvement on those contained in a 2014 Poppyscotland report 3 , nonetheless they still demonstrate the need for more to be done to help close the gap. These statistics also need to be considered alongside the significant degree of under-employment amongst some parts of the veterans community and the recurring difficulties many experience when applying for civilian work.

This chapter offers recommendations that are intended to help address some of these shortcomings. The first section focuses on the strategic level, with suggestions for developing the leadership, governance and funding required to underpin a long-term approach to employability for the veterans community.

Later in the chapter, I make a series of specific suggestions that are aimed at helping all veterans in their job quest, no matter their age or background. I believe that these - as with the other recommendations throughout the report

- align with the Scottish Government's Renewing Our Commitments strategy and offer practical suggestions for bringing to life many of the pledges made in that document.

Securing Employment - A Strategic Approach

Leadership and Governance

During the debate in the Scottish Parliament that followed publication of my first report, Transition in Scotland, it became evident that there is strong political support for the veterans community amongst our elected representatives. Since then I have found this level of consensus and support to be reflected across Scotland, whether in discussions with local authorities, public services, the business sector or the general public. In each case, there is a strengthening desire to provide improved support for those in need and remove any disadvantage suffered as a result of time spent in the military.

The Scottish Government's subsequent policy document, Renewing Our Commitments, developed this theme further by expanding the idea of maximising the potential and contribution of the veterans community, especially in the workplace. It also reinforced a suggestion made in my earlier work that Scotland should be promoted as a 'destination of choice' for those leaving the Services and that we should start viewing veterans in a far more positive light than has historically been the case.

This is a very welcome shift in approach, particularly as it positions the veterans community as a distinct asset, with the attributes to help address national issues such as a skills gap and the population flight experienced in some areas.

Having set out this clear vision, the Scottish Government now needs to translate it into a far-reaching and practical plan that will deliver specific improvements for veterans and their families, as well as for the business community and wider economy. Many individuals and organisations wish to be part of this work but I see the Scottish Government as best placed to co-ordinate the effort and provide the strategic leadership required to deliver successful change. Its current engagement on employment issues with, amongst others, Business in the Community Scotland, SVETS, employers' organisations, Skills Development Scotland ( SDS), Scottish Enterprise, as well as many of Scotland's larger businesses, is particularly encouraging and offers a solid foundation on which to build.

Scottish Veterans Employment and Training Service ( SVETS)

…is a collaborative initiative between employers, veterans organisations and others in Scotland that links former Service men and women with a wide range of small and medium-sized enterprises. It is designed to enable employers to access ex-military talent, address skills shortages, and develop training, graduate and apprenticeship programmes for veterans. It is delivered by a range of partners, including SaluteMyJob, Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce, Veterans Scotland, Jobcentre Plus, Skills Development Scotland and Business in the Community.

SVETS will be launching a new toolkit for employers in early 2017.

As a first step in providing the levels of leadership, governance and direction necessary to generate and maintain momentum, I believe the Scottish Government should establish a high-level group that is tasked to deliver the employability agenda set out in this report and in Renewing Our Commitments. The group should take a wide view of employment issues in Scotland so that it can integrate its work with existing national policies wherever possible. It should be prepared to exert the influence to produce widespread benefit to the veterans community, businesses and employers, and Scotland's economy. I would expect to see the group generate far greater collaboration and co- ordination across sectors, a strategic plan that looks well into the future and a robust means of measuring success.

Recommendation 1 - Veterans Employability Strategic Working Group

The Scottish Government should establish a Veterans Employability Strategic Working Group of key partners to provide strategic leadership and to oversee the activity required to fulfil the ambitions of more, and better, employment opportunities for veterans, as articulated in this report and in Renewing Our Commitments.

The working group should include core participation from the Scottish Government, Skills Development Scotland ( SDS), Local Government representation, Ministry of Defence ( MOD)/Career Transition Partnership ( CTP), the Department for Work and Pensions ( DWP), and Veterans Scotland.

Scottish Veterans Fund

Another means by which the Scottish Government can demonstrate leadership and provide crucial financial support in this field is through the allocation of grants from the Scottish Veterans Fund. This fund was established in 2008 and has typically provided money annually to a diverse range of small projects that support veterans and their families.

The fund has recently benefited from a major injection of money from the private sector that will allow it to have a much larger and sustained impact. I am aware that there is debate at present about how this increased resource might be allocated. Given the importance of meaningful employment in underpinning a secure future after military service - and the significant focus on employability issues across Government and the sector - there is a compelling case to use these additional funds to deliver improved job and training opportunities for veterans, their spouses and partners. I recommend that this approach should be adopted in time for the 2017/18 allocation of funds.

Recommendation 2 - Scottish Veterans Fund

The Scottish Government should support proposals that promote employability and increase job opportunities amongst the veterans community as the priority when allocating resources from the Scottish Veterans Fund.

Veterans and the Skills Gap in Scotland

A recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research concluded that "the skills system in Scotland is not well matched to current labour market demand", estimating that the deficit between skills demand and supply was in the region of 29,000 individuals each year. The veterans community should be seen as part of the solution to this problem, especially given the number of skilled and experienced veterans already living in Scotland and the approximately 3,000 Service Leavers and family members who choose to settle here every year.

How this is achieved in practice will require further expert consideration and I, therefore, anticipate a newly formed Veterans Employability Strategic Working Group tackling this as one of its first challenges. Several initiatives already attempt to connect Service Leavers and potential employers but much more can be done to direct ex- Forces personnel and their spouses and partners into those areas where we know there is a specific shortfall, for example in education, health, IT and engineering. Statistics recently published by MoD also show veterans being under-represented in various key sectors, including construction, finance and insurance - all of which have a strong presence in Scotland, supportive employers and a marked skills shortage.

With an increased awareness within MoD and CTP of the skillsets of Service Leavers who settle in Scotland, and the statistical evidence of where the skills gaps exist, there is an opportunity to develop the sort of analytical, robust and ambitious plan that will ensure the veterans community is used more effectively to help address this issue. I would encourage early progress on this, taking a lead from some of the work done previously by the Scottish Government to re-train and re-employ skilled workers from the oil and gas sector.

Recommendation 3 - Filling the Skills Gap

The Scottish Government to review how the veterans community could be most effectively utilised to fill the known skills gaps in key sectors like education, health, IT, engineering, construction, finance and insurance. In doing so, it should consider whether its recent initiative to attract former oil and gas workers into teaching in the North East of Scotland should be replicated for the veterans community. This recommendation should be considered by the Veterans Employability Strategic Working Group (see Recommendation 1) as one of its early priorities.

There is also a strong tradition amongst Service Leavers and members of the veterans community - particularly those who are older and more experienced - of setting up their own businesses. Many achieve significant success, especially in areas where their technical skills are in high demand. There are extensive opportunities for self- employment in Scotland and I am keen to see continued efforts by CTP, local Chambers of Commerce, Business Gateway and others to help more individuals towards this goal.

Employability Pilot

For several years the MoD has used its 'Firm Base' project to foster stronger links between its regional military leadership, local authorities, employers and local communities across Scotland. This has provided an effective vehicle for engagement on a diverse range of local issues and done much to build better understanding between parties that have sometimes struggled to work together. Recently I have become aware of an increasing determination, in geographical areas where there is already a large military presence, to adapt and extend this relationship with the specific aim of improving employment opportunities amongst Service Leavers, veterans, spouses and partners. Although very early days, this is a welcome and promising development that deserves further consideration at a strategic level.

I, therefore, propose the establishment of a pilot project that will build on this work by bringing together a group of key individuals and organisations that can foster significantly closer and mutually beneficial relationships between the military, local authority, community planning partnership, employers, academia and representatives of families and veterans in a local area. Its purpose should be to develop plans to create better and more job opportunities for Service Leavers, veterans, and spouses and partners.

The project will be an ambitious, complex and challenging undertaking which, if it is to be successful, will require participation from a large cross-section of organisations covering all sectors and many different subject areas. Many of the ideas currently under discussion are at an embryonic stage but the pilot project's potential is already becoming evident in Moray, North East Fife, Argyll & Bute and Glasgow (through their Glasgow Veterans Employment Programme).

Glasgow Veterans Employment Programme

.... offers financial incentives to employers to recruit unemployed veterans in Glasgow. It guarantees 25- 40 hours of work per week in a permanent post, paying the Glasgow Living Wage. To date, 150 veterans have been matched into further employment through the partnership of the City Council, Glasgow Helping Heroes, Remploy and the local Chamber of Commerce.

Again, I believe the Scottish Government is best placed to initiate and co-ordinate this project but the participants will each play a significant role and will need strong local roots as well as a proven ability to drive change within their particular organisations and communities. It will also be advantageous to have academic input to offer advice, monitor progress and determine the success (or otherwise) of the pilot.

Recommendation 4 - Employability Pilot Scheme

The Scottish Government should initiate and co-ordinate a regional employability pilot project, based in an area where there is a high military and veteran population. The purpose should be to deliver an increased number of meaningful and sustainable employment opportunities for Service Leavers, veterans, and spouses and partners.

The pilot should involve the full range of organisations with an interest in the development of the local economy, the sustainability of its communities and the particular contribution that veterans and families can make to these ambitions. It should, therefore, see core participation from the Scottish Government, Local Government, Ministry of Defence, Scottish Enterprise, Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Skills Development Scotland, Department for Work and Pensions/Job Centre Plus, Community Planning Partnership, employers, local college(s), and representatives of local veterans' families.

Statistics and Research

Organisations that provide support to the veterans community, both in the statutory and charity sectors, often struggle to identify long-term needs and to plan effectively for the future because of a lack of accurate data. Whilst most acute in health and housing, there is also an impact on decision-making in areas of employment and learning. The Royal British Legion and Poppyscotland recently led a national campaign calling for the next UK-wide census in 2021 to include questions about previous military service. I made a similar submission to the National Records of Scotland and my team is currently involved in discussions with them about the feasibility and scope of this proposal.

I am confident that fresh data on the veterans community from the census would contribute to improved strategic planning and evidence-based decision-making in Scotland. However, 2021 remains some years off and, in the meantime, there is a more urgent need for a better understanding of the current needs, profile and location of this cohort. There is a particular requirement for statistics on the employment situation and some serious analysis of the impact of the various national and local schemes to support the wider veterans community.

Recommendation 5 - Research and Evaluation

The Scottish Government should commission research to provide analysis of the current baseline of the employment situation for the veterans community and to evaluate the impact of national and local initiatives to improve job prospects.

Securing Employment - Some Practical Measures

On a surprising number of occasions, I have come across Service Leavers and veterans who have unrealistic or inaccurate expectations of what job opportunities are available to them after a career in the military. Some anticipate walking effortlessly into highly-paid senior posts in business purely on account of a strong track record of leadership and management in the Armed Forces. At the other end of the spectrum, others aim much too low and believe that the skills and experience reaped during their time in uniform will rarely apply in a civilian setting. Predictably, both tend to struggle to find their niche and often become frustrated and disheartened.

There are also a number of individuals who battle to find employment despite the best efforts of the Career Transition Partnership, the Officers Association Scotland ( OA Scotland), the Regular Forces Employment Association ( RFEA), and several other charities and organisations. In many cases this is attributed to poor application or CV writing skills and an ineffective performance at interview, particularly if using the 'competency-based' approach taken by many large organisations but not commonplace in the military. It is also apparent that a lack of civilian work experience - especially amongst recent Service Leavers - frequently counts against applicants when competing in a demanding jobs market, despite often impressive qualifications and experience.

The overall effect of these barriers to the best jobs is that a significant number of Service Leavers and veterans, and many spouses and partners, fail to fulfil their potential and end up frustrated and under-employed. Ultimately, this is wasteful - for the individual, potential employers and the broader economy - but it is also a specific disadvantage suffered by the veterans community at a time when they could otherwise achieve so much more.


One of the most effective means that I have come across for managing career expectations and preparing for civilian employment has been the mentoring provided by a number of employers in Scotland. For example, I have heard first-hand of the benefits of the advice and direct support offered by veterans networks in companies like Standard Life, Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays and General Electric. Employees already in these businesses help veterans write applications and prepare for interviews, support successful applicants adjust to civilian employment and provide mentoring throughout their time there.

In recent years the Bank has recognised the unique skills and contribution that military personnel can bring to the organisation, it has listened and actively and publically increased its support for veterans and reservists.

While there was little support when I joined, it's a very different story today. The skills sets of the Armed Forces are more readily recognised within the Bank, and support for veterans, Reservists and their families is now fully integrated into the Bank's Inclusion Department.

Jules McElhinney, RBS Audit Manager, veteran and Reservist ( case study 5)

A further example, this time in the public sector, is provided by Police Scotland where its Veterans Champions Network is developing a support system for mentoring new and existing colleagues with military experience. This is an excellent example of an organisation recognising the benefits of recruiting from the ex-Service community and taking simple, practical measures to make it easier to apply, prepare for interview and succeed in a new career. The case study on page 36 describes this initiative in more detail.

Veterans have a strong work ethic, good leadership, discipline and problem solving skills learned in the military that are all easily transferable into the role of a police officer.

However, the problem we see them face is how to formulate those skills, with many of them just not able to see their true potential.

Sgt Gordon Latto, Police Scotland Veterans Champion ( case study 2)

Mentoring, in its various forms, is an effective and relatively low-cost means of helping Service Leavers and members of the veterans community into employment. I believe more organisations - both in the public and private sector - should consider establishing such a system, although I recognise that it takes time, effort and senior management buy-in to create an effective support mechanism. Employers cannot be forced down this path but those who have signed up to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant will certainly wish to consider it as part of their commitment to the military community. Given that all local authorities in Scotland are signatories to the equivalent Community Covenant, they may also see the broader benefit, like Police Scotland, in providing this type of assistance.

Finding 1 - Mentoring

I would like to see more employers establishing networks of employees who can be a source of advice and mentoring support for Service Leavers and veterans, both those considering joining the organisation and those employed. I will continue to raise this suggestion with employers and encourage them to emulate the examples cited.

Work Placements

One of the recurring barriers for the veterans community when seeking meaningful employment is often a lack of experience of the civilian workplace. Too often this is used as part of the first sift during a recruiting process, which quickly excludes many whose skills could easily be adapted to jobs 'beyond the wire'.

In many instances this is compounded by a lack of understanding between civilian employers and those prospective employees who have spent most of their working lives in the military. It is well-known that every profession has its own acronyms, jargon and language but the Armed Forces are probably in a league of their own on that front. While some Service Leavers and veterans may be unsettled and confused by the language used in a civilian workplace, their new civilian colleagues may be equally nonplussed by the words, tone and attitudes on display. This can lead to suspicion, unease and, in the worst cases, a subsequent reluctance to accept former Service personnel into the workplace.

An example of this was provided by Simon, a Warrant Officer, whose work placement with a small company was beset by miscommunications and misperceptions. This was only addressed when the company CEO translated the soldier's language and skills into something familiar and non-threatening. Recognising that military 'intelligence collection' had many similarities with commercial 'market research' was a revelation to both parties and quickly provided common purpose and a much greater likelihood of Simon being offered a job. Further experiences of this individual during his various work placements can be found at the case study on page 37. It paints an interesting picture of how the veterans community can be perceived by those with little knowledge of the military or Service life.

Undoubtedly, seeing and hearing at first-hand how employers operate and their expectations of their workers is a vital way of preparing for civilian employment. The most effective way of achieving this is through work placements and I am aware that there are numerous opportunities for Service Leavers to participate in such schemes organised by CTP. There is, however, also a need for older veterans, as well as spouses and partners, to benefit from this type of experience, especially if they have been out of the job market for some time or are changing careers. Although opportunities already exist through statutory services, more are needed.

The number of large employers in Scotland that are signatories to the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant could reinforce their commitment to those who have served by increasing the number of work placements they offer to the veterans community. In addition, given the number of small and medium-sized enterprises in Scotland, these businesses could also make a big contribution and I would be particularly pleased to see the work placement scheme run by Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce extended to other parts of Scotland.

Recommendation 6 - Work Placements

The Scottish Government should work with employers - both small and large - to find ways of offering more placements to Service Leavers, veterans, spouses and partners. This should be in addition to those offered by Career Transition Partnership.


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