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 4 Looking to the Future and Leadership

In the course of researching and writing this report, I was heartened to learn about the extent of the support and advice that is available to Service Leavers and veterans seeking new or better employment, learning and training opportunities. It was also evident that there is a strong appetite among a wide range of stakeholders to see veterans given more chances to utilise fully their skills and experience in meaningful and sustained post-military jobs - something that will be of benefit to the individual veteran and their family, and also importantly to Scotland's communities and economy.

It also struck me, though, that now is an opportune time not only to highlight and acknowledge the support and good practice that already exists but to seek to build on it with improvements in policy, practice and leadership at all levels.

In approaching the task of producing recommendations for how such improvements can be achieved, two significant issues kept arising that should be foremost in minds as we move forward on this wide-ranging and important agenda. These are:

  • the changing nature of the military workforce and their families in Scotland and the impact this will have; and
  • the level of leadership and governance that will be required to drive and deliver the changes envisaged in this report.

The Future

A changing workforce

Scotland is home to a number of iconic and significant military bases - most prominently, in Moray, the Clyde, Edinburgh and Fife - with a high proportion of technically savvy and talented personnel. The number of employees at some of these bases will also increase over the next decade with the arrival of Typhoon and Poseidon (P8) squadrons in Lossiemouth and the Royal Navy's entire submarine service in Faslane. It is, however, worth bearing in mind that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is currently preparing to set out reforms to the laydown of other bases through to 2040 and reviewing its current employment model across the UK. Both will have an impact in Scotland.

Regardless of future basing plans, I am aware that the nature of the military workforce in Scotland is already changing. As I have highlighted throughout the report, Service personnel in the future are increasingly likely to be better educated, trained and qualified than their predecessors. There will also be a significant number of Reservists

- from all three Services - who will spend as much of their time in civilian employment as in uniform. Each will have the potential to make lasting contributions in communities and workforces across Scotland.

This situation presents a clear opportunity for employers to enhance their workforce by recruiting ex-Service personnel with highly desirable technical, leadership and management experience. In the areas of Scotland where there is a demographic challenge and/or skills gaps in the economy, the potential exists to go some way to solving these issues - but only if this next generation of veterans is persuaded to settle locally upon leaving the Armed Forces.

Spouses and partners

Another aspect of the changing nature of military life in Scotland today is the clear employment potential of spouses and partners of serving personnel. I have become increasingly aware of the significant role they often play in anchoring their family in communities and the influence they have when deciding where to settle after several years of 'following the flag'. That decision will depend heavily on them having good career prospects locally, access to reliable public services and a continuing high quality of family life.

For many in the military, the future employment prospects of the serving family member is, therefore, not the sole consideration. It is apparent that spouses and partners must be considered as a key part of the employability, skills and learning policy agendas over the coming months and years.

This was reinforced by the results from a recent survey undertaken by Recruit for Spouses, a social enterprise focused on helping military spouses into jobs. It revealed impressive levels of qualifications and skills, yet high levels of under-employment, amongst spouses based in Helensburgh, the closest town to the naval base on the Clyde.

Of the respondents to the survey, almost 70% had a degree, professional or SVQ/ NVQ level qualification and of the 42% who were not working 82% expressed a desire to do so. Although taken from a relatively small sample size, these statistics nonetheless reinforce my experience of a pool of well qualified, skilled and motivated people that could be utilised far more productively than is currently the case. I have featured spouses and partners throughout this report and consider them as central to many of the recommendations.

In summary

I am strongly of the view that the changing nature of the military workforce in Scotland and the oft under-utilised potential of military spouses and partners present a unique opportunity. My hope is that this report offers the direction and specific recommendations for changes that will, in time, see the veterans community regarded as a highly sought after and valuable asset within our communities and work places.


I am clear, though, that significant and enduring change and improvements in the areas featured in this report will not be possible without the continued interest and leadership from the Scottish Government and politicians of all hues.

The Scottish Government's Renewing Our Commitments document is an ambitious strategy that articulates an enlightened vision of the potential contribution and value of the veterans community to Scotland. It will be important for the Government to maintain momentum on this agenda and to continue to be ambitious if the changes envisaged in its strategy and in this report are to be realised.

The Scottish Parliament, particularly the Cross-Party Working Group on the Armed Forces and Veterans Community, also has a key role to play in providing the political impetus for change and scrutinising the Government's progress in delivering it. I believe that this report provides another hook for raising the profile of veterans issues amongst our elected representatives and I look forward to their continued interest and engagement.

Recommendation 17 - Parliamentary Scrutiny of Veterans Issues

The Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work should in due course report the progress made against implementing the recommendations in this report (and my two previous reports) to the Scottish Parliament. The aim should be to raise the profile of veterans issues amongst Parliamentarians and provide them with the information necessary to scrutinise the Scottish Government's work in this field.

Jobs in the public sector

Employers, many in the veterans sector and commentators will, rightly, look to the Scottish Government to lead by example when it comes to making changes. One means by which it can demonstrate this leadership, and set a prominent example to others, is by being more proactive in its own approach to recruiting and supporting the veterans community in securing jobs within the Scottish Government and associated agencies. It is, though, only fair to acknowledge that due to the No Compulsory Redundancy policy in place for employees, there are strict constraints on external recruitment and, therefore, a limit on how veterans might immediately benefit from changes.

Notwithstanding the current restraints, the public sector remains a large and important employer across Scotland. The Government still has the potential to demonstrate its commitment to making this report's ambitions a reality by targeting and supporting the veterans community in securing the jobs that are advertised externally and for incorporating veterans into their future workforce planning.

Recommendation 18 - Jobs within the Scottish Government

The Scottish Government to assess its current and future recruitment policies with a view to identifying opportunities to better target and support the veterans community in securing Scottish Government jobs. In doing so, it should consider Police Scotland's approach of providing tailored information, personal support in completing applications, and advice in preparing for interviews. Mentoring from ex-Service personnel within the civil service is likely to play a crucial role.

Another significant public sector employer is, of course, NHS Scotland. I attended the last Armed Forces and Veterans Joint Group meeting, chaired by the Scottish Government and attended by Health Boards, and was hugely encouraged by the evident enthusiasm for utilising the talent of the veterans community within the NHS and providing better support to those interested in applying for jobs. I would like to see that enthusiasm harnessed and progress made against developing bespoke support and advice to the veterans community over the coming months.

Recommendation 19 - Jobs within NHS Scotland

NHS Scotland and individual Health Boards should develop and deliver commitments made at the last Armed Forces and Veterans Joint Group meeting to utilise the talents of the veterans community and provide better support and advice to those applying for jobs within the NHS.


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