Barriers to Civilian Employment

The majority of people who leave the Armed Forces make a successful transition into civilian life, but for some people that transition can be more challenging.

“The civilian world is not an easy world to live in. The Army is a bubble; your whole world is kept in there. But as soon as you leave, you’re on your own. To adjust to the civilian life was so daunting, and it’s difficult to integrate yourself in the civilian world, the way they operate. I’m used to a structured way of life, but in the civilian world it’s like ‘anything goes.’ I know it’s not meant to be like that but that’s how it is. So I needed a bit of time to adjust to that.”

Here are some of the challenges that veterans might experience and our advice for overcoming them:

Communication in the military world is much more direct and to the point. Veterans can sometimes be perceived as being very blunt.

You can overcome this barrier by being clear about how individuals within your organisation communicate and by providing veterans with a work buddy or extra supervision and feedback while they settle into a new job.

”I kind of miss being able to say bluntly what you feel, and I really couldn’t do that, and I did lose a couple of jobs because of saying what I was thinking!”

The Armed Forces have a very clear hierarchical structure with clear chains of command. The civilian corporate structure is often more fluid and subtle. You can overcome this barrier by being really clear in your instructions to veterans and being clear about who will be line-managing their work.

The military working environment is not a 9 – 5 environment. Veterans often take great pride in their work ethic and are puzzled when civilian colleagues don’t share those same values. One of the impacts of this work ethic is that it can cause anxiety; Veterans, especially those who experience mental health problems, may have problems switching off from work.

Encourage all your employees to use their holiday entitlement and to ensure that they don’t check emails in the evenings and at weekends.

“I’m coming from the Forces where I do things with precision… I don’t do any shortcuts… Things are done with precision. If things are to be done, they should be done.”

Some veterans have expressed difficulty in adjusting to civilian roles that don’t have the same day-to-day urgency as military life and where they have fewer responsibilities and less authority than they had previously experienced. It is important to let all employees know how their work contributes to the success of your organisation. Understanding the bigger picture helps people to see how their contribution makes a difference to the organisation.

For many veterans, the only job interview they have ever attended was the interview to join the Armed Forces. They may be unsure about how to describe their military experience in a way that civilian employers will understand and will value.

You can overcome this barrier by spending time talking to veteran recruits, ask them to describe what a typical day in the Armed Forces looked like for them, what skills were they demonstrating in their previous role, who and what were they responsible for?

“When I left the Army, I found it very hard to integrate into the civilian population. That’s why, applying for job, after job, after job, I was probably knocked back because I wasn’t describing what employers wanted to hear.”

Veterans often describe having lots of experience but few qualifications, or having qualifications that they achieved in the Forces which aren’t recognised by civilian employers.

Spend time listening to your veteran recruits to make sure you fully understand their knowledge, skills and experience.

”There are certain things you don’t have a qualification for. For instance, being in charge of between 2 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. I’ve been dealing with people all over the world, different embassies, different countries, all over the world’ it didn’t mean a thing because I didn’t have a qualification. So all that experience meant that I could probably get a job as an admin assistant.”

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