Addressing the veteran employment gap in Wales

In late March, the Royal British Legion in Wales supported a workshop with Business in the Community Cymru, leading Welsh employers and partners. It examined and discussed the veteran employment gap in Wales – and the role business can take to address it. Ant Metcalfe (Area Director, Royal British Legion in Wales) now reflects.

Projects like the prospective Swansea Tidal Lagoon could transform the Welsh economy. However, the skills gap (as noted in a joint report by Miller Research, Whole Life Consultants and the CITB) in Wales means that the country could only fill around half of the roles the project requires. 

BBC Cymru Wales reported at the beginning of last year that there could be as many as 37,000 roles in Wales which need filling and that 31% of applicants lacked basic numerical skills. Businesses in Wales today need skilled, talented and work-ready people to help them fill positions at their organisation – and the Welsh economy need these people too. 

The veteran employment gap

Individuals leaving the armed forces have skills and want to work. The Annual Population Survey (2015) indicates that there are around 150,000 veterans in Wales with around 58,000 being of working age (16 – 64). This is a huge pool of untapped resources and skills for employers to access. That’s why we came together with Business in the Community Cymru to work with companies in Wales to unlock that talent for their business – and bring ex-service personnel into civilian private sector roles.

While many veterans go on to have successful careers after leaving the armed forces, this is not the case for all. The Legion’s recent report Deployment to Employment highlights the veteran employment gap in the UK. Our research shows that working age veterans are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed as civilians and that the transient nature of forces lifestyle also impacts on their spouses’ employment prospectives. 

Do the stereotypes and myths of the armed forces create barriers to recruitment at your business? Do you think they are ‘mad, bad and sad’? Are those leaving the Army or Navy struggling to communicate their competence and skills when they come for interviews?  The Deployment to Employment report explores many of the obstacles that veterans may face in securing long term and satisfying work in “civvy street” once they’ve left the Armed Forces.

The role for business

There is support, but more can be done. More can be put in place to ensure that education, training, skills and qualifications gained in Service are translated into the civilian world; and here there is a clear role for business. 

“There’s certain things you don’t have a qualification for. For instance being in charge of between 200 and 600 men as an HR office manager. I don’t have a qualification, so I’d go to a company and say, ‘well I’ve just been in charge of 600 men, I’ve been in charge of pay documentation, passports, deployments, bombs, bullets, you name it’. It didn’t mean a thing because I don’t have qualifications”Centre for Mental Health, Employment in Mind (2016), in the Deployment to Employment report

This is why we are forging new partnerships with the business community to reduce the barriers to employment that veterans face. Whatever the ability, skill, and education of a veteran, we owe them opportunities to move to successful careers and participate in the working world so many of us take for granted.

Working with Business in the Community Cymru and leading employers in Wales at a workshop session in March, we outlined how tackling the veteran employment gap can deliver great benefits to Wales, individual businesses and to the veterans themselves. Colleagues from Airbus shared their experiences of embedding a military-friendly, and ex-service personnel-friendly, culture within their organisation and how that is underpinned with HR policies and support.  

While reducing unemployment is a valid aim in itself for the local economy, employing veterans can bring certain qualities to your business, including:

•    A strong, dependable work ethic gained from working in and leading teams
•    Ability to work in a stressful, fast paced environment
•    Quality skills in latest technology and engineering
•    Experience of culturally diverse and global working environments.

Practical action

Business can take action by examining their recruitment practices and working with service charities and groups to see how they may be unknowingly excluding certain groups from applying for roles. How can service experiences be better mapped to person and job specifications? By breaking down some of these initial and straightforward barriers, employers can start to open themselves up to a wealth of experience and skills from the veteran community in Wales and beyond.

Over 1000 companies have already signed a public pledge – the Armed Forces Covenant – to ensure that the Armed Forces community face no disadvantage and that their needs are considered. We believe that signing the Covenant could be the first step in supporting the veteran community in the UK. By taking on board the information and action in both our report and the new BITC toolkit (Capitalising on military talent), companies can begin to walk the talk on this agenda and truly bring to life their covenant commitments. 

For more information on BITC's work with veterans, please contact Sam Di Talamo (England and Scotland) or Dave Hoare (Wales).