Leaving the Army and joining a training provider was a culture shock 

9 May 2022, 6:00

Many service leavers lack confidence in their skills when they exit the armed forces. Providers and employers must step up, writes Alex Firmin

With around 14,000 people leaving the armed forces every year and more than two million ex-service people living in the UK, the transition into the next stage in their career can be daunting.  

Veterans can be critical of themselves, lacking confidence in the skills outside of those they’ve acquired in the armed forces.

Often, they find it hard to identify what could make them attractive to an employer, or, if they wish to work in FE, to a provider like mine. 

Research from the Forces Employment Charity shows civilians recognise the value ex-forces bring to the workplace, including in FE providers.

But unfortunately, many military leavers think they are not qualified for roles they would in fact be suitable for and would thrive in. 

It’s the duty of leaders, managers and trainers in non-forces businesses to nurture and help them make that transition as smooth and stress-free as possible.  

Be empathetic 

Leaving the Army was a surreal time for me.

It was a major culture shock. After spending several years in service, on tour in places like Afghanistan, I didn’t allow time for myself to adjust when I left.

Admittedly, I was quite naïve and it took some time to find my feet. 

I didn’t allow myself time to adjust

These feelings are not uncommon in ex-military personnel. One in three confess that they’ve faced a lack of understanding amongst employers and/or colleagues about how their skills from active duty translate into a business environment. 

There’s also a greater focus on the pastoral aspect of leadership in the forces than in industry. Military leaders are taught to care for the wellbeing of their followers and are often perceived as mentors by their colleagues.  

Many businesses and organisations do have pastoral elements in place. But more recognition of the skills of veterans will boost confidence from the off. This includes ex-forces staff joining training providers. 

Offer work experience 

Of the 2020/21 regular service leavers who used the Ministry of Defence’s career transition partnership provision, 83 per cent were employed within six months of leaving the forces. 

However, many ex-services personnel can feel a sense of urgency in gaining employment. So they often go into low-paid or routine occupations that don’t make full use of their skills. 

Moreover, a rushed transition can possibly lead to a new place of work not being the right place for them, with many resigning quickly, leaving their confidence dented. 

As all service leavers are entitled to resettlement financial assistance, employers could offer a short period of paid or unpaid work. This means an individual has time to understand whether or not a role could work for them.  

If successful, this period of supportive work experience would hopefully lead to longer-term benefits for both parties. 

Provide mentoring or support services 

For many, military life is all-consuming, and civilian life can be more uncomfortable than being on the frontline. Imagine moving from that regimented world into a new job that has its own culture. 

Despite what may seem like disparate worlds, a veteran can bring skills in time management, problem solving, teamwork, resilience and much more. However, many just need a helping hand to identify those skills. 

That’s where a mentor or support group from employers or training providers can prove useful. That interaction could also be beneficial for the business or organisation as a whole, as well as for the individual. 

Practise what you preach 

Many organisations have pledged their support to the armed forces community, maybe in the form of signing the armed forces covenant, which is a moral obligation to treat service leavers fairly. 

But employers and providers who take these vows must ensure sustained action.  

Since 2011, more than 8,800 businesses have signed the armed forces covenant. Your provider can too! 

Offering education, training or internships will maximise the potential of service leavers, improve mental health, develop industry awareness and ultimately benefit the person, employer and provider. 



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