It’s over a month since the Government published their Veterans’ Strategy Action Plan: 2022 to 2024 Policy paper, and most unlike me, I have sat on my hands for a few weeks, watched, listened and considered a response. I have spoken to many people about the content, tone and intent of the messages contained, and these conversations have helped shape and solidify my thoughts.

Undoubtedly there is a great deal of political jockeying, repetition and regurgitation contained in the 55 pages of focal points, themes and cross-cutting factors. However, the document is light on detail considering what it seeks to address (and fix?) before the push to 2028 where we all hope the goal of making “the UK the best place in the world to be a Veteran” is realised. I have read and re-read the Action Plan and will not sit and shred it like some, on the contrary I hope to make constructive suggestions and offers of assistance that will mean, together, we can all press on. The Veteran community is strong, empathetic and has an operational focus with an eye on the strategic agenda. Naturally, the themes regarding Employment and Public Perceptions are the most important to us at JobOppO and therefore these are the areas I will focus a re-action on.  Notably;

 

  • Developing a fast-track recruitment scheme for Service Leavers and Veterans to become prison officers (I’ll include Get into Teaching & Great Place to Work in with this also)
  • Undertaking a scoping study to design and roll out… the digital verification of Veteran status
  • Reletting the CTP contract
  • Undertaking a bespoke campaign on employability to the business audience

 

First, I would like to thank those who have worked to put this document together and of course those who have strived to elevate the Veteran agenda in Government over the last 4 or 5 years – it’s greatly appreciated, and Veteran advocacy and support is, without doubt, in a better place than ever before. Secondly, it’s important to note, the only people who understand and sincerely care about Veterans, are Veterans. That’s fine, and things will only improve when Government and the Veteran community come to terms with this, stop pretending the MOD do or should care, and realise the large military charities have shown themselves lacking over the last 5 years. Veterans must be empowered to play a leading role in the management of Veteran matters – it sounds simple. There remains much to be done however and not only are today’s Veterans a product of a modern society, but the complexities of the environment some have operated in during the last 20 years means, while the difficulties may continue for some, others have been made by their experience. It’s vital to remember, a vast majority of our Veterans are valuable not vulnerable.

I’d like to address the elements of this Action Paper most relevant to JobOppO in turn, and while there is clearly cross-over, I’ll let people make their minds up where the line may be drawn.

Developing a fast-track recruitment scheme for Service Leavers and Veterans to become prison officers (NB I will include "Get into Teaching" & "Great Place to Work" with this also)

There is much scepticism around the recruitment of Service Leavers and Veterans to fill gaps in HMPPS, teaching and the Civil Service – predominantly because it would appear these are unpopular places to work for everyone, so why then would Service Leavers and Veterans seek employment before these faults are repaired? While there are of course success stories, “…there are so many specialisms too, from PTI, Dog Handler, Tornado Team, Use of Force Instructor, or more office-based roles,” the majority of people I engaged would not consider it (pay, risk, support, governance etc) and would not recommend it (these days) despite how much they got from it as a second career. While the means and tone of reaching both cohorts are, or should be quite different, have the MOD and the MOJ spoken about what needs to be done to make this a more palatable career option for Service Leavers? Can Veterans carry over pensions for example? What inter-organisational liaison is being conducted to assist improve the perception of HMPPS for example as a viable and attractive second career choice? What more can be done? Is this an attractive option for Veterans seeking a career change?

With regards the DofE’s Get into Teaching programme, while it works for some, many don’t see the application process through as it’s too complicated and, from personal experience, too hard to get a straight answer about recognition of prior learning or skills attained while in uniform. Why is this? Once again it seems one Government department seeks a quick win from another – not dissimilar to the Civil Service and their Great Place to Work scheme. I mean, is it? Really? It has been interesting to see some opportunities, promoted publicly, but only available to serving members of the Civil Service – is this the inclusive impression the Civil Service wants to give? I appreciate this is a pilot and the Action Plan suggests pushing it out across other departments, but it would be interesting to see the results of the pilot. How many applications were made and what percentage made it to interview, offer, acceptance? Again, from personal experience I can attest to the application process being horrible and the benefits of the Great Place to Work scheme ambiguous at best – and regurgitating old press releases is pretty lame.

How can we help?

Endeavouring to be positive – HMPPS, teaching and the Civil Service could become great second career choice for Service Leavers or a viable option for Veterans, if the faults are identified, acknowledged, and fixed. As well as working to “Change the Narrative Around Veteran Employment”, JobOppO, and the wider Veteran community, help change perceptions, encourage a more honest and open conversation and ensure struggling government departments can benefit from the skills, knowledge and attitude Veterans and Service Leavers offer. If asked.

2. Undertaking a scoping study to design and roll out… the digital verification of Veteran status

This is a huge project and for it to succeed those responsible for it must have the means to engage the Veteran community – and note this is quite different to engaging the Service Leaver community who are, too often, bundled together. I chanced across the survey on LinkedIn, but I suspect that was more due to bad habit than design. How then will OVA push out this survey to maximise impact and ensure they consult enough Veterans to shape decision making? Perhaps there are individuals and organisations well connected, at the grass roots level, with the Veteran community that could help get this survey the focus and responses it needs. This is an important issue to many Veterans – and something Veterans understand.

How can we help?

Veterans speak to Veterans, and Veterans listen to Veterans. Perhaps this information could help get OVA a better understanding of the thoughts or feelings on a particular matter. If it matters. I set up a poll on LinkedIn and it’s interesting to see how few people were aware of a survey that, as far as I can tell, was only been promulgated by one organisation (RFEA) via one or two social media platforms. Why so?

Reletting the CTP contract

Frustratingly I was unable to attend the MOD’s recent Market Awareness Day held at the Army Museum however I think I could hear back slapping and smell the smoke being liberally blown from my home in Kent. There are many Veterans keen to see who will replace Manpower Group (an assumption there clearly) and what the new Primes will pledge. It’s clear there needs to be a new approach with an increased focus on digitalisation of transition and dare I say an increased onus on the holistic transition from the military - that JSP 100 promised to address. Will Manpower go again with a few promises to improve? I suspect they will, and I think they will be given another contract as they appear to have convinced themselves and the MOD their approach is best in class despite the many Veterans, Service Leavers and employers we engage who suggest otherwise. Others will go for it and, like most Defence contracts, collaboration will be critical. There will be some new names keen to make a difference and I sincerely hope they will be heard. That’s the best hope we have of improving the initial phase of “Changing Gear”.

How can we help?

JobOppO would gladly talk with any potential Primes about how to engage the Corporals as well as the Captains and the Able Rates as much as the CPOs. We have embraced technology, because this is what tomorrow Veterans want, not just because Covid has forced it upon us – over 60% of our community are still currently serving. We have created an app-based community that encourages Veterans to help Veterans. We have designed and rolled out a self-paced virtual employability learning content programme. We align ourselves with good employers – who care. We are not afraid to have a voice and ask questions.  There are many Veteran owned, Veteran led and Veteran focused organisations who would add value and grass roots credibility to any bid and I encourage potential Primes to consider the impact this might have.

Undertaking a bespoke campaign on employability to the business audience

This is the key focus for me. It will take time, but it’s hugely necessary. If it’s misjudged, poorly directed or fails to land nothing will change. The below, published in the magazine of one of the Saturday broadsheets recently, suggests the campaign has started. It may be too early to judge the campaign on a single (has there been more?) action, so I will do so with unusual care. I hope this is the very thin end of the wedge, but I can’t help feel a Rupert (seriously) leaving the Grenadier Guards and moving into Banking and a former WO1 taking up a role at a large Defence contractor is playing it far too safe. It’s been suggested the MOD can’t or won’t talk up the success stories of the young JNCOs for example, less it becomes a retention/poaching issue. Sadly, there’s a part of me that thinks this is true and we will be stuck with the same old clichéd narrative. Here’s Johnny, who’s done his 22 years, joined at 17, knows no different, is a good man-manager and has got a couple of GCCEs - he’ll be great security manager. Here’s Major (Ret’d) Jane she’s served for 18 years after studying a Media Studies degree. She’s been banging her head on the rank ceiling for 5 years – cracking Project Manager in the making.

How can we help?

Now I sincerely hope this is happening, however whichever agency OVA has engaged to develop and deliver this campaign must consult both those that matter. I have been guilty of banging the drum is a particularly echoy echo chamber and while initially satisfying, it frustrates as it does not lead to change. I am trying to change this.

I appreciate I am not a “business audience”, but I speak to them most days. There is much that needs to be done to alter perceptions and fix the damage caused by the larger charities who would have employers believe everyone who has served has too much baggage to bother with. Despite some questionable decisions being made by our political and strategic masters, junior leaders have operated and succeeded in incredibly complex environments over the last 20 years. Today’s service personnel learn to operate 4 communication platforms, use (or not use) 5 complex weapon systems, can engage in 2 or 3 languages and can normally drive several different kinds of vehicle. Importantly they can also show compassion and aggression in equal measure while understanding the implications of their actions – the second and third order effects. “You do all that without having a beer to unwind?” a Vietnam veteran asked me before I deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. Counter-insurgency operations are hard, and we have learned to embrace uncertainty, sometimes seek it out; that’s why military personnel and Veterans have shone during the Covid pandemic.  Our military has changed significantly over the last 20 years, but the way Veterans are perceived has not caught up. Why? Because Veterans have not stood up and looked after themselves. Government don’t – (although the OVA was making some good noises initially), the MOD can’t and the charities wont.

So it’s up to us.

“What do you recommend we do about all the people with PSTD?” a HR manager asked my colleague last week. This, incidentally, from a company who’d signed the Armed Forces Coveneant and is sat with a silver ERS rosette.

Come on, we have to do better.

OVA is a start. The Veterans’ Advisory Board is a start but I have a few questions about the VAB. Does it advise? Who does it advise? Is it listened to? Does it listen to other Veterans? Who decides who sits on the VAB? Can I?

Who is driving the operational and tactical engine? We have a fantastic opportunity to let, in fact insist, Veterans lead their own agenda. But to do so they must be included as the oil between the annoying slow moving working parts. Oil, not glue.

 

Please ask, don’t just do?

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