We have been unfortunate to see a number of conflicts in the world over the past couple of decades, most notably in Afghanistan and Iraq, leaving vast numbers of veterans returning to UK society following these brutal wars. There is an extensive number of veterans who constantly get ignored by society when it comes to re-acclimatising and seeking work. This points to a fundamentally broken system, and whilst there has been some progress from government to improve veteran opportunities, there remains a lot of work to be done.
An utter waste of talent
The Ministry of Defence (MOD) currently estimates that there are 2 million veterans residing in the United Kingdom in 2022. For these veterans, the current care offer is complex, and whilst in some instances it is positive, it is often significantly worse than the other nations the UK fought alongside in Afghanistan and Iraq. Whilst there are policies for housing, healthcare and pensions in place, the opportunities for employment are egregious and leave veterans woefully under-supported – and this has to change. This frustrating omission in the veteran care leaves an utter waste of talent from groups who are perfectly capable of contributing to key industries like technology, who are desperate for an increased workforce of digitally proficient staff. Despite the inevitable challenges of returning to society, the skills that veterans bring, organisations with the right attitude, ambition and resources can reshape veterans for employment in the UK, significantly improving their prospects upon return from the armed forces, as well as providing a much-needed boost to the workforce for many industries. What’s more is that having a good, fulfilling job significantly improves the quality of life for veterans who are able to use their quick minds and experience in the most intensive environments known to humans for a useful purpose in their career outside of the military, whether that be in IT or elsewhere.
It’s time to throw out the CVs
Too often in this day and age employers emphasise the skills laid out on a CV when deciding who to employ for a given role, and whilst CVs can be valuable and highlight key, relevant skills, it should by no means be the determining factor. The issue with using a primarily CV based approach to recruitment is that it automatically dismisses a large pool of talent who may be suitable for the job but can’t express themselves eloquently on a one-page CV, or worse, expel suitable candidates from a role because of their previous experience, such as serving in the armed forces. Assessing candidates on their potential rather than their life experience, measuring them on what they can actually contribute in the workplace, has the potential to revolutionise and maximise the vast pool of veteran talent in the United Kingdom, whilst simultaneously aiding their transition to society post service. Accredited aptitude testing is a vital tool to this process, providing accurate assessments of each candidate resulting in companies having access to demonstratable examples of each candidate’s ability and potential. Recruitment based around this would immediately increase the prospects of veterans in developing both their core technological skills, and soft skills, for their future job.
Babou Jobe: From Afghanistan to Senior Developer
Babou Jobe is a prime example of a returning veteran in need of support after servicing in the armed forces, having spent seven years in the British forces including the last operation during the Afghanistan war, ‘OP HERRICK20’. After returning to the UK, Babou graduated from London Southbank University with a First-Class Honours in Computer Science, as well as a Postgraduate Certificate in Project Management, but despite his impressive education and military experience, Babou struggled to find employment. The issue Babou had, was the market perceived he lacked the soft skills required to maximise his skills on his CV, resulting in over 300 unsuccessful applications. He sought out the support of veteran-led digital skills company WithYouWithMe – which has recently launched in the UK – where he undertook psychometric and aptitude and further upskilling. WithYouWithMe then worked with him coach him during applications and interviews with their partner organisations, allowing him to ultimately secure a position as a Senior Developer at world-leading defence technology company Northrup Grumman. Though Babou’s story ends well, i highlights the ongoing issues faced by veterans looking for work after returning from the armed forces.
Why businesses need to tap into this overlooked pool of talent
As highlighted by the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, veterans offer future employers a wealth of knowledge, experience and skills, representing an untapped pool of talent who are poised to help the UK’s growing digital workforce. Core skills such as teamwork, versatility, resilience, time management and accountability are all staples of the culture within the armed forces and are key transferrable jobs to any walk of life, not least the tech sector. Furthermore, veterans are typically elite problem solvers due to their experience in the armed forces and to their ability to be flexible and think on their feet, translates strongly to the requirements of technology. In fact, WithYouWithMe provided aptitude testing for 30,000 veterans, and 20,000 of them (67 per cent) were found to have the same aptitude traits as the best software engineers in Silicon Valley, a global centre of innovation. Too often employers rely on industry experience, but acquiring people with a well-rounded skillset, like the one that veterans gain from being in the military, can be hard to come by. Given their work ethic and dedication, veterans should be highly valued in the job market because of these skills and subsequently their ability to be retrained in other careers. When people demonstrate an aptitude and attitude that matches a digital career, they can be trained to be proficient in that area in 150 hours, opening a whole new pool of talent up to employers.
Digital training in the field
Ensuring returning veterans are accommodated, trained and effectively deployed into technology related roles is an important step of the process – but imagine the leap forward we could make if this kind of ‘future workforce’ training was provided to troops while serving. In June, the Royal Lancers, the British Army’s leading reconnaissance Regiment, undertook an innovative technology capability program to do just that – and I believe the approach could serve as a blueprint for how the entire British Army addresses both its digital skills gap and veteran transition suppport. The programme which is also being delivered WithYouWithMe, is designed to help unit level commanders leverage the invisible digital talent within the force, by identifying soldiers with natural abilities to excel in key digital roles such as cybersecurity, software engineering and data analytics. Through the use of psychometric testing, soldiers with aptitude to thrive in tech-based roles can be identified, and then their skills can be trained through accredited digital training, so they are prepared to deliver critical tech capabilities. This training will also help the Royal Lancers adapt to new technological developments in the future, due to the base skills they have acquired. In the case of data analytics, their training will eventually help to leverage data feeds from drones, satellites, and radio transmissions, all of which will feedback critical insights to support commanders in the field to make faster and better-informed decisions. Moving forwards, digital skills training in the field can help to better equip people in the British Forces both for their work in that domain, as well as preparing them for life outside of the military.
The road ahead
It is clear that veterans need a better support network for life outside of the military, beyond the measures currently in place. The UK are a powerhouse in so many areas, and veteran support should be no different. Training digital skills in the field can help to pre-empt and prepare the British Forces but there also needs to be an onus on employers to re-evaluate and revamp both their hiring and training policies in order to provide better opportunities for technologically capable veterans. Veterans are a grossly wasted pool of talent that organisations can tap into, making use of their wealth of transferable skills, and in many cases aptitude for specific roles – particularly in the technology industry with the digital skills shortage. Given the digital skills gap is continuing to widen, there is no better time than the present to embrace the qualities that veterans have to offer and re-tool the UK’s digital workforce.
18 Jul 22. Johnny Mercer Letter on his Appointment as Minister for Veterans’ Affairs. Dear veterans and their families, Last week the Prime Minister appointed me to be the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs – further delivering on a long term promise to the UK’s veteran community to get the whole of Her Majesty’s Government operating in the most effective way to support you and your families. This Government has committed to making this country the best country to be a veteran in the world by 2028. It is my job to deliver on that commitment; I am determined to do so, and I will make myself accountable to you for doing so. While veterans care has advanced significantly over the last fifteen years, I recognise that this has not been felt equally by everybody, or experienced equally across every community of the United Kingdom. Huge strides have been made to meet the increase in demand for support since 2003, and I pay tribute to the thousands of brilliant people who have worked incredibly hard – often as volunteers – to improve life after service for our veterans. The vast majority of our veterans go on to live fulfilled and empowered lives after service. You all know that veterans make fantastic employees, go on to great careers, give back to their communities and hugely benefit from their time in military service. I am determined that we change the narrative around the UK’s veteran population so that your service is recognised and your successes celebrated. But some veterans do face deep struggles, which I will relentlessly strive to tackle. We will forge a path towards ensuring that every one of our community who needs help knows where to turn, and is met by good quality, evidence based care that will improve their lives. The Office for Veterans’ Affairs has achieved great things since its conception in 2019, and will continue to ensure that the Nation’s debt to those who serve is honoured. We are already taking action to protect veterans from vexatious legal pursuit into old age. We are delivering England’s first complete mental health care pathway for veterans in Op COURAGE. And we will be addressing the harm to our LGBT community from the years of the ban. The Government set out bold commitments in the Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan 2022-24 in January this year to improve veteran healthcare, employment, access to digital services and more, and we will meet them all. This is a significant moment of change. I hope that the Nation looks back in the years ahead with pride at what we achieve, and that this step change is felt by every one of you. I look forward to the challenge.
Johnny Mercer served in the UK commandos for 14 years, completing multiple combat tours in Afghanistan.
Johnny left the UK armed forces to seek elected office in the UK in 2014 and was first elected the following year as a UK Member of Parliament.
Johnny was invited by the current UK prime minister to form the United Kingdom’s inaugural Office for Veterans Affairs in 2019, serving for two years in this position.
Determined to continue his mission to improve the life chances of every UK veteran, Johnny became Minister for Veteran’s Affairs in July 2022. He is also member for Plymouth.