Government needs to think differently about transition to give Service leavers and veterans the best life chances

A new report launched today by Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace calls for the UK Government to lead an overhaul of the transition model, which shapes and supports the journey and experience of military personnel returning to civilian life.

Positive Futures: Getting Transition Right in Scotland – Employment, Skills & Learning concludes that a fresh transition model with input from the devolved governments is required if veterans and Service leavers are to secure the best life chances for them and their families on moving back to civvy street. The second in the Commissioners’ Positive Futures series of papers which will examine different aspects of transition, the latest report focusses on the crucial areas of employment, training and skills development for individuals leaving the military. Its launch comes as the country faces the full economic impact of the global pandemic and many Service leavers step out of the military into a bleak labour market.

As well as calling for a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Defence, government, and relevant statutory and third sector bodies to refresh the transition model, the report recommends that individuals need to take greater ownership of their transition, and that preparation and planning for civilian life should be introduced much earlier in their military career.

While acknowledging that great work is already being done in the employment, skills and learning arena, the report highlights the requirement for greater clarity and flexibility around available information and services, statutory support for veterans’ spouses, and additional support packages for Early Service Leavers and those struggling in a more competitive jobs market.

The recommendations build on progress made in delivering the first Commissioner’s recommendations in this area and the long-term vision and action instigated in the UK-wide Strategy for Our Veterans.  It was the product of collaborative work across the four countries to produce a ten-year Strategy with a consistency of purpose, with delivery in each country then taking account of local circumstances.

Scottish Veterans Commissioner Charlie Wallace commented: “Too often we see veterans struggle to sell themselves or find suitable opportunities in the civilian world, and they settle for jobs that don’t allow them to reach their full potential. We want to see the transition model redesigned to enable more veterans and Service leavers and their families realise their individual aspirations, including securing a job or vocation that is right for them.

“Amid the coronavirus pandemic, challenges for those leaving the Services have never been greater. There is a very real risk that economic instability and job cuts will pose serious barriers to Service leavers and veterans, who may be disproportionally affected by the potential ‘triple whammy’ of increased unemployment, financial inequality and health and mental health issues. Now more than ever, it is crucial that the MOD and devolved governments step up and work together to ensure that the right support is being put in place to help our veterans reach a positive future.”

The transition model and ‘preparation space’ has long been the reserve of the MOD and the three Services, but the Commissioner believes that the devolved governments have a vital contribution to make in its redesign.

He continued: “It is the Scottish Government which designs and provides services for Service leavers and their families choosing to settle in Scotland, therefore it has an interest in ensuring the transition model is right. Involvement of the devolved governments would help deliver a more seamless transition which complements the statutory education, training and skills development services available in each region.

“Of course, when it comes to successful transition, preparation by the individual is essential and there is no substitute for it. For the most positive outcomes, we need Service leavers themselves to own their transition, adopt the right mindset, and do the groundwork throughout their Forces career. However, we still need to ensure they are informed, supported, and enabled to carry out this preparation, and that this continues throughout their transition journey. Too often, preparation within the Services is squeezed into the last few weeks or months of Service. That needs to change. We need to go back to the drawing board and re-think the transition model. Unless we update the existing approach to one which is flexible, integrated and puts the individual at the centre, we will only ever be applying short-term fixes and ‘bolt-ons’.”

“A great deal of work is already being done by the Services to address this issue, and many statutory and third sector bodies provide exceptional support to help veterans once they return to civilian life. However, this support needs to be more proactively promoted, clearly signposted, and flexible, with individuals and their families able to draw on appropriate support, advice and funding at a time when they need it. I have also recommended that statutory support is extended to spouses and partners, and that enhanced support is made available to young and Early Service Leavers, who are currently most likely to struggle or be offered only very basic support despite having a whole working life ahead of them.”

Positive Futures: Getting Transition Right in Scotland: Employment, Skills & Learning includes a total of 10 new recommendations for government, which also includes strengthening connections to the business community as potential employers and mentors, and greater collaboration between charities and government to avoid duplication of effort and focus resources on areas of greatest need at this unprecedented time.

Charlie Wallace concluded: “The role of the Armed Forces in the nation’s fight against COVID-19 has brought their contribution to society to the fore, and we need to build on this momentum at a time when the veterans community is facing more challenges than ever. While these recommendations are intended to improve outcomes for veterans and their families, if we can get transition from the Forces into civilian life right, then the labour market, our communities and society in general will reap the benefits of a diverse and very often high-performing source of talent.”

The latest report develops a vision set out in the Commissioner’s 2019 report, Positive Futures: Getting Transition Right in Scotland. The new recommendations sit alongside previous recommendations made by the first Commissioner, Eric Fraser, which were accepted in full by the Scottish Government. Scottish Government progress towards delivery of all SVC recommendations is reported annually by the Commissioner. The most recent progress report, carried out in November 2020,  showed that of the 63 recommendations made previously, 41 (or 65%) have been implemented.

In his next report in the Positive Futures series the Commissioner will be looking at housing and making a home in civilian society. A report and recommendations is expected next spring.

You can view Positive Futures: Getting Transition Right in Scotland – Employment, Skills & Learning here.

The 10 new recommendations in full are:

1.A fresh transition model is needed – the UK Government should lead work to re-think transition and develop a more flexible and accessible transition model that starts early, looks to the longer-term, puts the individual at the centre and is integrated within military systems from sign-on.

2. Serving personnel should be prepared by the military for working life beyond Service. This preparation should be built into training and career development programmes and transition thinking. Planning should be introduced early and reinforced throughout military careers and when leaving.

3. Serving personnel and veterans need to take responsibility for their transition. They need to ‘own it’, fully engage in it and embrace the support on offer throughout their military career and beyond.

4. Advice and support is clearly sign-posted and promoted proactively, offered in a timely and accessible way and backed by advice and guidance which is informed by the latest local labour market information and circumstances.

5. Statutory support should be extended to spouses and partners with additional ‘wrap-around’ packages considered for Early Service Leavers and those struggling in a more competitive jobs market.

6. Funding for further learning or training should be re-examined to simplify the ‘offer’ and ensure ease of access and fit with the transition model for today. In addition, ELCAS learning credit support packages should be re-examined to ensure their fit with that more flexible model.

7. Work on the alignment of existing military and civilian skills and qualifications in Scotland should be completed and all new qualifications placed on both the RQF and SCQF frameworks as appropriate, to give veterans the best chance to compete for jobs when settling in Scotland.

8. Connections to the business community should be broadened and enhanced to ensure reach out to small and medium-sized enterprises as potential employers or as mentors to veterans looking to start their own business.

9. In this time of social renewal, social enterprises should be considered as a model to support community development, provide services, facilities and employment for veterans to ensure they do not experience any disadvantage due to their military Service.

10. Greater collaboration is needed across veterans’ charities and associated charities operating in Scotland and with central and local government to avoid duplication of effort and focus resources on areas of greatest need at this unprecedented time.