Ahead of its official opening on 17th June, I caught up with Michelle Ferguson of Scotland’s Bravest Manufacturing Company (SMBC) on how the social enterprise is supporting the Scottish Armed Forces community.
SBMC employs, as well as offers training and volunteering opportunities to, veterans and those with disabilities who have found themselves in a period of long-term unemployment.
Having recently secured national contracts from bodies including BEAR Scotland and amey Scotland, as well as a number of local authorities, SBMC aims to support 150 veterans – including their partners and family – over the next three years.
I was kindly invited to visit their factory on the Erskine Estate earlier this year, and it really was remarkable to learn more about the vast amount of opportunities, skills and education that it is providing. I’m thrilled to hear its plans of expansion as we move forward, and with funding from Scottish Enterprise on the horizon, I hope that it can be used as a model across Scotland in the future.
Here’s more from Michelle.
The idea of creating SBMC was born after the release of the 2016 report, The Veterans Community Employability, Skills & Learning, by Eric Fraser – the previous Scottish Veterans Commissioner. It outlined the wealth of skills our veterans’ community has to offer and how it was a priority for the country to ensure there were specialised services in place that could nurture these skills, and help Armed Forces personnel into civilian workplaces.
As part of the Royal British Legion Industries (RBLI), the UK’s leading charity helping ex-Armed Forces personnel into employment, we had a foundation to set-up a service at the Erskine Village which mirrored RBLI’s Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company. Surrounded by a number of existing military charities operating from the Estate, including Bravehound and the services provided by Erskine itself, we were already a part of a community with a shared vision.
Currently we’re able to offer employment and volunteering roles, as well as training, in manufacturing, fulfilment and printing disciplines. What’s crucial when working with veterans is building a sense of worth and helping the individuals understand that their military skills are transferrable – and they are incredibly versatile.
Of-course it’s our goal to get veterans into employment after completing our programme, but we want to ensure that the workplace that they end up in is enjoyable and ultimately a career they can progress in. Veterans are often thought of as elderly, however the majority of them are of working age and still have years, often decades, of work ahead of them.
It’s important to remember that as well providing new skills and employment opportunities, SBMC aims to grow the confidence of its service users. We understand that returning to civilian life can be daunting and even taking that one step in trying to find a job is difficult, so we’ve designed the 18-month employment programme to ensure we’re consistently up-skilling the workforce and helping build their confidence.
We have been overwhelmed by the support of the Armed Forces community in Scotland. Working with charities and organisations who provide a host of services to military personal across the country has been invaluable, and we’re so pleased that our social enterprise has been welcomed with open arms, as this has been fundamental to our growth.
Currently we’re progressing a new project that will support spouses and the families of veterans, which is a really exciting step forward for SMBC. We’re aiming to provide a six-month paid work experience within our factory or office space, and again roles will be adapted so they match the individual’s interests and goals. As well as the experience of employment, we also plan to provide CV writing workshops and mental health support – so overtime we really aim to provide full circle support for friends and family of the military, which will be made possible by Big Lottery Funding.
Over the next three years, our goal is to support 150 veterans and growing the business is crucial to meeting this. One sector that we are currently targeting is off-shore oil and gas companies who require titanium cutting services. The staff at SMBC also play a huge role in helping us meet this target, and we’re really keen to employ a business development manager in the near future as our client portfolio expands.
Collaborating with other military organisations in Scotland is also something we’re really keen to continue, and from day one their support has been outstanding. Walking with the Wounded, Scottish War Blinded and Fares4free are just a few of the charities we owe a big thank you to so far, and we’re looking forward to building these relationships, and making new ones, as we prepare for the future.