Alison Coleman 5 Jun 2018 04:01pm

A new place in society

With a wealth of transferrable skills at their fingertips, ex-service personnel offer valuable talent to a range of industries. Alison Coleman finds out how business benefits by recruiting from the armed forces

Caption: Photography: Rex/Getty Images

Organisations are facing one of the severest skills shortages in over a decade. A solution for many of these companies could lie with the armed forces, a diverse pool of talent from which around 14,000 service personnel emerge on to Civvy Street every year. However, as new research shows, many businesses are failing to recognise the opportunities this presents.

Veterans Work: Recognising the potential of ex-Service personnel, a report produced by Deloitte in collaboration with armed forces charities the Forces in Mind Trust and the Officers’ Association, found that in spite of more than 1,500 businesses signing the Armed Forces Covenant, a pledge that those serving in the armed forces are treated fairly, many businesses are failing to capitalise on the talent pool provided by veterans. While 71% of employers say they would consider employing veterans, just 39% would employ someone without industry-specific experience.

Chris Recchia, partner, risk advisory at Deloitte, says: “A third of medium to large organisations have specific skill gaps, and we know that ex-military personnel can fill those gaps. Their ability to motivate staff, work as a team, and the positive attitude they bring, along with their emotional intelligence and communication skills, are second to none. You can equip them with technical skills downstream. There are very good reasons for organisations to look at recruiting service leavers as a viable channel to securing top talent.”

Thanks to the work of the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), forged between the Ministry of Defence and Right Management, many already are. The CTP provides a link between organisations, ranging from SMEs to multinationals, including Jaguar Land Rover, Sky, BAE Systems and Openreach, and the armed forces, facilitating a smoother transition for service leavers and greater access to vital skills for employers. David Duffy, managing director of Right Management, says: “Organisations today have a much better understanding of the value that service leavers bring. Five or even 10 years ago, people saw recruiting veterans as CSR, something they should do. But when it makes business sense, why would you not?”

Openreach is a prime example of an organisation that includes recruiting military personnel in its strategy. Its focus for volume recruitment has traditionally been for field engineers, and since 2011, the company has recruited over 2,500 ex-forces people into field engineering roles.

“Put simply, armed forces people perform consistently well,” says Openreach HR director Kevin Brady. “In 2017, 15% of applicants and 20% of hires to volume engineering roles in Openreach were ex-forces. This uplift during the assessment process is opposite to the expectations of armed forces leavers; many seem to think they’ll find it harder to compete in the civilian world. Once they’ve passed the training programme, over time, armed forces people tend to apply for higher graded roles, perhaps a reflection that they are bringing their abilities and experience to bear after joining the business.”

The transport sector is also facing a skills gap, with industry experts anticipating a shortfall of more than 55,000 people equipped to work in transport infrastructure by 2020. Transport for London (TfL) is tackling the problem through its smart sourcing programme, aimed at finding people from backgrounds who wouldn’t typically consider a career in transport, including those service leavers looking to transition into civilian employment.

Tricia Wright, HR director at TfL, says: “We’ve found that often those looking for civilian employment don’t always realise how their skills are transferable or can be applied to industries and roles that are nothing to do with the armed forces. However, these transferable skills are usually exactly what we are looking for and are currently short of.”

For example, she says, the armed forces require people who can understand and implement complex plans and who are resilient and can keep calm under pressure; the exact same traits needed by TfL. “The nature of our work means there are often unexpected events or situations that are out of our control, but affect the services that we run,” she explains. “This is when the ability to respond under pressure comes into play. We need employees who can keep a clear head, rather than panic, and work out what the best solutions are.”

Meanwhile, the success of BNY Mellon’s six-week Returning Military programme has been demonstrated by the permanent placement of a third of the original programme cohorts now growing their careers within the organisation, including head of philanthropy, EMEA, Sarah Dickson, and asset servicing, EMEA, Paul Goscomb.

“Military people have spent lengthy periods of their career being developed and tested as leaders, in formal programmes and under demanding circumstances,” says BNY Mellon’s technology risk management, EMEA, Eric Warren. “We also have considerable experience of how to maximise those strengths and deploy them most effectively in the team around us, all of which are differentiators in a finance environment.”

Globally, the UK is unique in its approach to recruiting service leavers, with other countries taking a more fragmented approach. “There is very little joined up in other countries,” says Duffy. “In the US, each state has its own veterans programme but nothing as cohesive as the CTP in the UK.”

This, coupled with the significant investment being made by the British armed forces into equipping service men and women with training and qualifications that will better prepare them for a civilian career, gives UK employers a competitive edge in the talent stakes.

“When companies approach us needing people with skills and qualifications in a specific business area, we can identify that talent pool very quickly,” says Duffy. “More organisations are now looking at this, and they are increasingly clear on the business case for doing so.”

A route into the profession

The accountancy profession has a particular affinity for the skills, attributes and experience, all transferable, of those leaving the services. As such, many organisations within the sector have developed programmes specifically aimed at providing high calibre ex-military talentwith a clear route into the profession.

“Service leavers who are seeking a career in chartered accountancy are attractive to any practice or firm worth its salt,” says Jeremy Mooney, director, communications and brand, ICAEW (and a former mobilised reservist). “Regardless of rank, the services imbue people with the ability to lead and step forward to take responsibility. They are instilled with core values, such as courage, discipline, respect, integrity, which dovetail beautifully with the ethical code of chartered accountancy.”

Deloitte, one of the first 20 companies to sign the Armed Forces Military Covenant, runs the Deloitte Military Transition and Talent Programme (DMTTP). A source of support to veterans and their families on transition, transferrable skills and recruitment into professional services, it also promotes the benefit of employing veterans to other UK companies.

Deloitte’s Chris Recchia, himself a former serviceman and the programme’s founder, says: “We have approximately 175 veterans working in many parts of the business, from tax to risk advisory practice, and at levels ranging from partner through to consultant.”

EY, which signed up to the Armed Forces Military Covenant in 2015, operates an employee-led Military Network that supports the transition of military veterans into civilian roles at EY and other UK organisations. The network is open to all EY people, connecting former members of the Army, Navy, RAF and reservists, as well as spouses and relatives of serving military.

Chair of EY’s Military Network James Hodgson says: “We have some great examples of partners, directors and managers who have successfully transitioned into a civilian role, direct from the armed forces.”

Service leaver profiles

Megan Krajicek, service delivery engineer, Openreach

Megan Krajicek left the Army in September 2016 where she served as a Lance Bombardier telecommunication operator within the Royal Artillery. At Openreach she works as a service delivery engineer, fixing, maintaining and installing copper and fibre products to households and businesses.

“I knew that I wanted to work in the telecommunication industry as this was similar to the work I had previously done within the Army,” she says. “I also knew that this was a growing industry. Stability, room for growth and career progression were important factors for me and Openreach provides all that and more.”

Excellent time management, organisational skills, a professional attitude and upholding high standards of work are just some of the transferable talents she has brought to her new role.

She adds: “I love the variety, every day is different, the mix of indoor and outdoor work, and there are some parts of the job where you get to work by yourself, others where a small team is needed. This gives me the perfect balance of autonomy and teamwork.”

John Barker, sales engineer, IGUS

John Barker joined the Royal Navy at 17 and became a Radio Engineering Artificer on board the Vanguard-class submarines, where his responsibilities included maintaining and fixing a plethora of internal and external communication systems including radars and early warning systems.

A serious back injury brought his military career to a sudden end, and following his recovery and medical discharge, with the support of the Royal Navy, he began preparing for a civilian career.

His attention was caught by a four-line job advert for a technical sales role at motion plastics specialist IGUS. “I was intrigued by the job advert because of its brevity. It didn’t beat around the bush, and the people at igus were straight talking and approachable. As an ex-military person those were character traits I appreciated, so I decided to take the job.”

Barker now works as a sales engineer handling igus’s range of energy chains and has made good use of the skills acquired in the Royal Navy.

He says: “With my technical background I can sit down with clients and talk knowledgeably about issues such as electro-magnetic compatibility. The military also gives you a ‘can do’ attitude, and that’s useful when out on the road.”

Pippa Hannaby, EU rates sales, Barclays Investment Bank

Pippa Hannaby commissioned into the Royal Navy in 2006 and had a 12-year career as a Logistics Officer, leaving as a Lieutenant Commander in January this year. Highlights of her career include supporting the evacuation of Lebanon, and leading the logistics team for a cold weather survival exercise in Norway.

“I always knew I wanted a second career after the Navy and, the longer I left it, the harder it would be. I looked at a broad range of industries and concluded that the skills and experience I had developed in the military, coupled with a maths degree, would put me in an excellent position to join the world of financial services.”

Following her successful application to the Barclays Military Internship, Hannaby joined Barclays Investment Bank full time in January 2018 where her role in the Markets Macro Distribution team includes engaging with clients on electronic market structure, and the overall growth of the electronic Fixed Income franchise.

She says: “The uniform is rather different, and the office doesn’t float, but the people, pressures and roles have some striking similarities, so my experience in the military is absolutely invaluable to me as I embark on my new career.”