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 5 Case Studies

Case Study 1

Education And Early Service Leavers

For some ex-Service personnel, the transition from a life in the military into meaningful and sustainable civilian employment is made all the more difficult because of a lack of even a basic level of educational achievement.

It has been reported that almost half of Army recruits have, in the past, left school with levels of literacy and numeracy equivalent of an 11 year-old and it was likely that they, more than anyone else, would become the Early Service Leavers of the future.

The new Army Apprenticeship Programme should mean that those who have participated in the programme will have a higher level of educational achievement and be better equipped to find a job upon leaving the military, nonetheless there are some people who will already have fallen through the gaps.

Derek Boyd, Early Service Leaver, Glasgow

Twenty-six year old Derek Boyd from Glasgow is one young man who experienced this hurdle after leaving the Army. Derek left school aged 16 following a troubled few years, enlisting with the Royal Engineers in order to "keep himself out of jail". He spent four years in England, Germany and Iraq working as an Army carpenter.

Aged just 17 and posted to Germany, Derek, by his own admission, didn't cope well with the military lifestyle; being so far away from home coupled with his troubled past, and exposed to a way of life so far removed from the familiarity of the east end of Glasgow. He turned to alcohol, and following a spate of alcohol fuelled incidents, he was discharged four years later, aged 20. Derek returned to his home in Glasgow and following a couple of years of severe unrest and little prospect of permanent employment, he decided to apply to college; the carpentry qualification he obtained in the Royal Engineers giving him the entry qualification he needed.

"Those first two years after leaving the Army were torture", explains Derek. "I came back home and found it so hard to re-settle, find work and keep out of trouble, even narrowly avoiding jail for disorder. I eventually found work with City Building using my carpentry skills, and noticed my boss at the time was qualified to HNC level. I thought if he can do it, I can do it….and from there I managed to get into City of Glasgow College to do a one-year HNC. I was surprised by how easy I found it all - so I just kept going."

Derek certainly did keep going, and has recently completed an honours degree at Glasgow Caledonian University in Building Surveying. He is now focused on finding sustainable employment, and like many Service Leavers has shown outstanding commitment and character to get to where he is today, even after a somewhat troubled military career.

Derek concluded: "I'm a scheme boy plus I'm dyslexic, I didn't think I was the type of person that could do it. I'm so glad I believed in myself, and just need a chance in the workplace now to show just what I can do."

Case Study 2

Making Skills Connections

One of the most important factors in achieving a successful transition from military to civilian life is securing meaningful and sustainable employment. Sometimes those seeking post-military employment can have unrealistically high - or low - expectations about what might be available to them upon leaving; equally there are employers that still do not understand, or fully appreciate, the qualifications, skills and attributes that Service Leavers can bring to a job.

Encouragingly, though, there are employers in Scotland that do recognise the strengths and attributes inherent in the veterans community and regard Service Leavers and veterans as potentially valuable assets to their organisation.

Police Scotland

Police Scotland is one such organisation that has embraced this mind-set and is actively recruiting from, and supporting, the veterans community. The Force has a recruitment team that participates in military and veteran recruitment events throughout Scotland every year.

A team of Veterans Champions from across the Forces' divisions support this activity, helping Service Leavers to recognise their potential and the transferable skills that they could bring to the organisation, and indeed to our communities as a Police Officer.

Sergeant Gordon Latto, Early Service Leaver & Veterans Champion

Sgt Latto has been with Police Scotland for 25 years, following five years with The Royal Tank Regiment. As a former Early Service Leaver, Sgt Latto is a key member of the Forces' Veterans Champions network. Alongside colleague Constable Wheatley, they are the driving force in developing a support system to mentor new and existing colleagues with a military background.

"The police force is an excellent career for a veteran to move into upon leaving Service", says Sgt Latto. "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.

"The Veterans Champions can make a big difference in helping Service Leavers overcome these barriers. Developing a relationship with them from the outset - at the recruitment events, throughout the application process and as a probationer - sharing their own experience as a veteran and police officer helps them to realise the transferable skills they can bring to the table.

"Those early stages can be a crucial time when they are first making that transition. If we can help mentor them through the process with support and guidance, they can have a very fulfilling career with Police Scotland."

Case Study 3

Effective Transitioning Support

Simon Talbot, Regimental Sergeant Major of the Defence School of Policing and Guarding, was due to leave the Army at the end of the year after 25 years' service. However, after spending a month on various work placements, organised by Forth Valley Chamber of Commerce, the opportunity arose to extend his service for a further three years.

Translating Army to civilian life

"I've found it hard to identify what I want to do next and some employers struggle to understand how '25 years running around with a machine gun' relates to the working world. The reality was I looked after 187 permanent members of staff and was the interface to making my Commanding Officer's intentions physically happen. That spanned project and facilities management, HR, operational welfare, security, training, logistics and career management.

"For me the Army was the best job in the world. For developing young people, exposing them to character defining life experience and giving them the responsibility to see something through from start to finish you really can't beat it."

When the opportunity arose to return to the Army, it was not a given that Simon would take it. Had a civilian job, fitting to the wealth of experience that Simon could offer, become available he may have made the move. However, a guaranteed job for a further three years in the Army was too good to pass up and will give Simon further time to reflect on his future career options.

Effective transitioning support

Simon put his transition period to good effect, going on courses such as Lean Six Sigma (manufacturing) and NEBOSH (health and safety) as well as undertaking work placements. His support was 'top drawer' and he'd give the following advice to service leavers:

1. Go around with your eyes open to the opportunities that there are in the outside world

2. Utilise all CPD opportunities

3. Civilian work attachments form part of your transition and benefits not only yourself but civilians. Soldiers understand how hard people in real life have to work; civilians become less suspicious of those that have served.

Case Study 4

Identifying The Right Career Path

When it comes to taking their next steps in the working world, many Service Leavers find themselves at a loss. Some are unable to identify the value of their military skills in the civilian world, while for others it can be a challenge to find a route into a new industry.

Finding herself in the latter position was 33-year-old Fiona Chalmers, who left the Army in 2014 after eight years' service as a Captain in the Royal Artillery. "I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do next," says Fiona. "It's the same for a lot of folk when they leave. The army is a vocation and although I wanted to find something similarly fulfilling, I had no idea where my passion would lie. After working in the Middle East for a couple of years I returned to the UK in pursuit of a project management role in a global commercial company. Having worked in a high- pressure, fast-paced role on large-scale operations during my service career, I knew that I possessed the skillset for this; I just had to find a way in."

FDM Group

For Fiona, the solution was global professional services provider FDM Group, an IT-focused consultancy offering a dedicated careers programme for ex-Service personnel. To help broaden access, ex-Forces candidates are exempt from the degree requirements that are normally required to work for the company. Once accepted, employees undergo rigorous training, after which they are placed on a client site as an FDM Consultant for a minimum of two years. UK clients include major corporations across a range of sectors such as finance, media and retail.

Fiona applied for the programme following a recommendation from a fellow service leaver. "The FDM team helped translate our military skills into skillsets for the commercial world, and they covered every detail when it came to prepping for interviews, from maximising our experience to even perfecting our handshake."

Maximising potential

Two weeks into her six-week training programme, Fiona was offered a two-year placement as a project manager at HSBC Securities Services. Norman Yarwood, Business Operations Manager for Ex-Forces at FDM Group's Scotland office, says Fiona's trajectory is representative of the ready-made potential service leavers bring to the company.

"I think service leavers can undersell themselves terribly sometimes. Many come to us with a complete transferable skillset already, they just don't know it. We help them realise their full potential and ensure they emphasise the quality of their military training in interviews. Army training is second-to-none and I think this is something more employers should realise.

Giving veterans a head start

"Our ex-Forces employees enter the programme alongside those from a civilian background to encourage integration from the start but with additional support in areas such as relocation and expenses, where required. We find a lot of peer-to-peer support is fostered naturally among ex-Forces recruits."

"Our ultimate aim is to give Service Leavers a head start in a new industry. Although employees can remain with us beyond two years, most see this as an opportunity to move on with two years' solid experience at a reputable organisation under their belt."

Fiona affirms that the ex-Forces programme has helped put her on track:

"My position at HSBC is a first-class opportunity which would have been very difficult to access myself. Although I'm capable of the job, it's unlikely my CV would ever have made it in front of the right people if it hadn't gone through FDM Group. It would be highly beneficial to both Service Leavers and employers if more direct routes into the corporate world were available."

Case Study 5

Transferable Skills

It's much easier to advocate change from within an employer organisation so that skills and competencies gained in the Armed Forces are recognised.

Jules McElhinney, Service Leaver and RBS

Jules McElhinney, a former Captain with the 1st Battalion Black Watch, serving Reservist and Internal Audit Manager, has worked for RBS for eight years. He is a keen advocate of the Armed Forces Community within the Bank and has been instrumental in affecting positive change.

Today the RBS employs more than 60 veterans and recently won a Gold Employer Recognition Scheme from the MoD for its support of veterans and reservists. The RBS Armed Forces Network, led by Jules, has co-responsibility for ensuring the Bank delivers on its Armed Forces Covenant Commitment. Current initiatives which have Board level support include running veteran career development days, and working with the 51st Infantry Brigade and the MoD on translating the tangible transferable skill sets against RBS competencies.

One of the proudest moments in Jules' life was joining The Black Watch, combining his love of adventure, sport and the outdoor life, while 'doing his bit' for his country.

"For that sense of belonging there is no organisation that comes close to the Army. Your leadership and management skills are developed from day one, managing everything from welfare to the military skill set of 35 individuals at the age of 24 is not an experience you'd get in the outside world; at RBS the most direct reports you'd have is around 10."

Jules found the transition to 'civvy' life difficult. "Although you are not aware of them at the time; the values instilled in the Army are very strong and different to those outside. Loyalty, respect for others and team work is to the fore; you put others' needs in front of your own. In the outside world it is more about the individual. If you let someone down in the Army the consequences are that a life could be lost; planning and implementation is meticulous. Achievement of work milestones do not have the same consequences so more easily slip."

Translating competencies

Jules also felt that "people didn't really 'get me'". That hit home when asked in an interview how he would demonstrate his experience of handling two opposing forces. An incident in Iraq where two groups of soldiers were pinned down by machine guns required some quick thinking. For Jules it was a strong competency example, for the interviewer it didn't quite hit the mark.

Combining work and service

For the last 10 years Jules has combined his RBS work with serving as a Reservist and he is now the Commanding Officer of 6 SCOTS, one of two Reserve Infantry Battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. He values the support he gets from the Bank and believes they in turn benefit from the leadership and management courses gained through his Reservist career

"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."

Case Study 6

Falcon Foodservice Find Transferable Skills

For Stirling-based Falcon Foodservice, the UK's leading manufacturer of commercial cooking equipment, hiring veterans and investing in their development has proven to be a valuable step in enriching the company's workforce and driving product innovation.

The company's first experience of working with members of the ex-Service community came in 2014, when the hunt for a new product development manager brought candidate Douglas MacLachlan to the fore. Already out of the army for a few years, Douglas had built on his Service skills within the defence industry, and the recruitment team at Falcon identified his skillset as being the perfect fit for the role.

John Kelly, HR Manager at Falcon Foodservice, said:

"Aside from possessing the very specifics skills required, Douglas immediately demonstrated a no-nonsense, can- do attitude. Combined with an unrivalled work ethic and an affinity for problem solving, his ex-Service qualities made him the perfect package for the position."

Championing Service Leavers

Douglas made an immediate impression, and now plays a key role in championing the value in employing Service Leavers, with the ability to match potential employees to very specific company roles based on the remit of their Service. He has since identified the need for more staff, and the company has recruited three more employees from a military background, two of whom are still with the organisation as engineers.

Continued Support

When it comes to ongoing support for ex-Service personnel in their new role, John explains that the company is committed to ensuring there is ample opportunity for personal and professional development.

"While we do look for a specific skillset to enter a role, we are very flexible when it comes to any gaps a new employee might have and endeavour to fill these through ongoing development and specialised intensive training courses. As well as being good for the company, our dedication to development is of lasting benefit to individuals, who can carry their new skills into other roles and industries in the future.

"We recently launched a lucrative new product, with one of our ex-Service engineers playing an integral part in the design and development. Being involved in this process and seeing the final outcome gave him real job satisfaction, and we recognise how well this aspect of the role aligns with the sense of purpose and achievement often enjoyed by Service Leavers in their former roles."

Untapped Talent

It is this determination to get stuck in and make their mark which John says other employers should consider when making the decision to actively recruit Service Leavers and veterans.

"In my experience, when we have candidates coming in from a Service background, they don't want the job for the sake of having a job; they want the job because they recognise the opportunity to utilise, adapt and develop their existing skills. It's a two-way street, but if you can demonstrate to veterans that you require their skills and will value their contribution, then more often than not, they will grasp the opportunity firmly with both hands and prove themselves to be incredibly hard-working, resourceful and reliable employees. 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."


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