Preparing early is key to fulfilling potential during and after Service life

Major Laura Cox has worked in the Educational and Training Branch (ETS) in the Army for over ten years, where she has supported members of the Forces across the UK and on operations in areas of personal and professional development. For the past two years, she has led as the Transition Officer for Army HQ Scotland, where she helps soldiers to prepare for life after Service.

However, unlike other transition and resettlement services that step in after the individual has made their decision to leave, Laura gets involved from day one. She reminds the soldiers that the Army is not forever and supports them to start preparing for their future. We caught up with Laura to hear more about her work, and the current outlook and opportunities for Service Leavers in Scotland.

“When it comes to preparing our soldiers for leaving Service life (also known as transition), the main focus is on preventative work. The most effective way of doing this is to get our people thinking about their future from very early on in their Service life. It’s human nature to live in the present, so this can be difficult. However, by learning from academic research into transition we can encourage positive behaviours right from the start of service life.

“One of the main areas for us is a financial education. It’s something which you can leave till later in Service as the living costs are low and for those living in Service Families Accommodation or Single Living Accommodation, payments are taken from their pay before it reaches their bank account. We make sure personnel are aware of the benefits of having some savings behind them to help secure accommodation when they leave, and outline how they can do this. We also inform them about their civilian housing options early on in their career and of being mindful of their credit score and ensuring those details are up to date. We remind them that they will need to budget for accommodation, bills, food and other essentials when they leave, and there is the option to have money from their monthly salary paid directly into a savings account (Called the Joining Forces Credit Union Savers scheme). Being money savvy is so important for overall stability and wellbeing in civilian life, so educating our personnel and encouraging them to prepare is one of the best ways to ensure a smoother transition.

“The other area that we focus on is understanding and developing skills. In recent years, the MOD has introduced apprenticeships which means 98% of soldiers will completed a civilian qualification during their time in Service (the last 2% are the musicians). For some individuals they are able to join the Forces with no qualifications and they can end up leaving with a PhD! There are fully funded opportunities there, and more and more people are making the most of them as we encourage them to think ahead and many of these options are embedded into their career pathways.

“Although there remains a lack of awareness within civilian society about the huge variety of roles, technical expertise and skills that Service life entails, more than ever, employers are understanding the value that ex-Forces employees can bring and are more frequently reaching out to us with recruitment questions. They have an expectation that there will be loads of people leaving, but actually that’s not the case, so Service Leavers really can be in quite high demand.

“We know that members of the Forces are upskilling more than ever and we know there is appetite from employers to recruit from the ex-Service talent pool. Our main challenge is helping our Service Leavers recognise how to sell themselves in the civilian world.

“Of course, we don’t want them to lose the Values and Standards gained in Service life, but they need to switch mindsets. In the military everything is about the team achieving a task, and they now have to change their mentality to one that is “I” over “We”. This is very alien skill for many personnel who have lived their life in line with the Army’s values, particularly the values of Loyalty and Selfless Commitment.

“Service Leavers are given support at the end of their career to help them learn how to articulate their skills, this is needed because during Service life promotions and job postings are done via the reports which have been written about them. Which means our people do not get much or any experience of attending interviews. Working with other organisations, such as SDS, we are teaching personnel how to use methods such as STARR to recognise their own individual qualities and skills, translate them for civilian employment, and highlight them in an interview setting. Most of this is done for us by the Career Transition Partnership.

“We’re also working with employers on further bridging this gap by helping HR departments identify transferable skills and understand how they can ensure their recruitment processes are accounting for ex-Forces and forces partners. There are several organisations that can help employers seeking to recruit from the Armed Forces community; Reserve Forces and Cadets Associations, CTPs Employer Engagement staff, Forces Families Jobs, the Officers Association Scotland, Regular Forces Employment Agency, British Forces Resettlement Services and Joint Force Alba all operate in Scotland.

“I’m optimistic that this increasing recognition of the value of the military community will continue, both in a workplace setting and in the wider community. The COVID-19 pandemic has definitely made the Forces more visible to everyone else as they do their bit to help the nation face the virus.

“One thing that could make a big difference for Forces families is the requirement for home and flexible working that the pandemic has brought about. Many employers have now recognised that they don’t need their staff in the office every day to get things done, and there’s a sense that these practices will continue to some degree beyond the pandemic. Many spouses are highly skilled but have sacrificed their own careers to support their partner. The option to work remotely will open up a lot more opportunities for them and a big talent pool to employers able to accommodate remote working. Employers seeking to recruit from the Forces partners pool should contact the website Forces Families Jobs.

“It’s a very exciting time to be part of the Forces – there are amazing opportunities to gain qualifications and be at the heart of the action. This, combined with an ever-growing support network in Scotland and across the UK and an increasing recognition of the value of a military background in the workplace and in communities, places our Service People in excellent stead for the future. Our main priority now is working with the individuals to ensure that they are encouraged and equipped to reach their full potential during Service life so when their time comes to leave they can transition seamlessly into a suitable civilian role.”