What SMEs can learn when comparing the military to civilian workplaces

There’s a pool of thousands of job-seeking individuals whose potential remains relatively untapped by employers – ex-military personnel, argues Stuart Tootal.

Small businesses are at the heart of the UK’s productivity, responsible for generating two thirds of all private sector jobs and around half of the country’s GDP. Continued growth, however, faces a risk of being overshadowed by the challenges employers are facing in recruiting highly-skilled employees, with concern rising year on year.

While the government is actively pursuing policies to help bolster the capabilities of the UK workforce, there’s a pool of thousands of job-seeking individuals whose potential remains relatively untapped by employers – ex-military personnel.

Having come from a military background myself, it’s easy for me to identify and recognise the unique skills and qualities that come from a career in the armed forces. From leadership skills to strategic thinking and problem solving, the strengths often displayed by veterans are exactly what the workforce needs. Yet, all too often employers are missing a trick and overlooking valuable and transferrable skills gained in the military which could add real value to their business.

Response to military experience

When 2,000 company decision-makers were asked to show how highly they would rate particular attributes on a CV, fewer than half (43 per cent) of employers in companies with 10-49 employees said they would look favourably on military experience on a CV. In fact, one in ten employers at small businesses would go as far to say they would look unfavourably upon armed forces experience.

In seeking civilian employment, some veterans are also facing the challenge of overcoming stereotypes and misconceptions even at the early interview stage. Additional research from Barclays finds that a quarter (25 per cent) of veterans felt that an interviewer had preconceptions about them because of their time in the armed forces, while almost a fifth (18 per cent) feel their interviewer misunderstood what their military role entailed while serving.

For this reason, it’s no surprise that a significant number of veterans feel disadvantaged when it comes to transitioning. Research conducted by Barclays found that finding a job is the biggest worry for almost half of service leavers, with, three in ten (31 per cent) additionally concerned about integrating back into civilian life in general.

What our insights show is the potential that exists to strengthen the understanding that all UK businesses have about the military. By increasing the support provided to service leavers, we can better appreciate this top pool of talent, and embrace the transferrable skills and experiences ex-military men and women can bring to the workplace.

How to approach ex-forces candidates

So what specifically can SME employers do to better leverage the value of ex-forces personnel for their business? My advice would be to firstly encourage interviewers to leave any preconceptions about the military behind and look beyond the CV when it comes to transferable skills and employability. Military thinking is suited to the ‘battleground’ nature of commercial business –regularly dealing with factors beyond company control while keeping focused on delivering success through periods of uncertainty. Military personnel are required to be task and results-orientated in order to inspire and motivate the team around them to work in a dynamic and productive way – qualities that would be welcome in any organisation.

Secondly, and particularly for the hiring managers and interviewers among us, it’s important to make a concerted effort to understand the various strands of military work and life. In many ways, transitioning into the civilian workforce means learning an entirely new language. Those in the world of business may consider writing a CV as a small undertaking first carried out as a student or graduate. By comparison, ex-military personnel have the daunting task of translating a raft of vocabulary, designed to keep members of the military safe and efficient, into ‘civvy speak’. Lesser known military terms include ‘SO3/2’ which denotes management, responsibility and accountability, while ‘1 Up’ is a phrase that refers to one’s line manager. At Barclays, we have a dedicated team to review ex-military CV’s to ensure their transferrable skills are not overlooked but rather given due recognition.

Thirdly, ensure you support those successful ex-military candidates once they enter your workforce. At Barclays, we assign all of our successful military applicants with an ex-military mentor when they start in their new role. Being able to candidly discuss their transition into the civilian workforce with someone who understands their perspective is something our ex-military joiners have found incredibly valuable, and has played an important role in retaining this top talent in our organisation.

While more evidently still needs to be done to demystify perceptions and ensure best practice in this area is adopted by the SME community, considering these small yet simple measures above can help provide veterans with a fair and fighting chance when it comes to their post-military lives and careers and bring real benefit to businesses who benefit from candidates equipped with a host of valuable skills that can add true value to the commercial sector.

Stuart Tootal is chief security officer for Barclays and Head of the AFTER programme.

Further reading on military and business

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of SmallBusiness.co.uk from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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