Why you should hire a veteran

The Veteran workforce is a powerhouse of skill and potentia, says Sally Walker of WithYouWithMe
Sally Walker
Army helicopter lifts soldiers

Each year, 15,000 people leave the UK military and return to civilian life. Many are hit with the new challenge of finding meaningful employment.

That’s in no small part due to the fact that many businesses are yet to capitalise on transferable skills and life experiences. A military sniper can be well employed in the digital or cyber sectors, for example - their abstract problem-solving skills and high degrees of pattern recognition set them up perfectly for a career in cyber security penetration testing.

Encouragingly, some companies have realised that how people think is more important than what they have done. These progressive organisations are fundamentally changing their approach to recruitment and the recycling of talent for the future. Some are also beginning to realise that the veteran workforce offers a large pool of motivated and highly skilled personnel, perfectly positioned to fill their empty roles.

That said, there’s plenty more to be done. We need to disrupt the way that all businesses approach talent acquisition. Human talent is expensive to produce and hard to retain; by recruiting motivated personnel, recycling experience and unlocking potential, the brains trust available to business can be tapped more effectively. And, in generating a more resilient workforce and plugging the ever-growing digital skills gap, businesses can thrive. It’s a win-win.

The best place to start is at the beginning: recruitment. Organisations are still using hiring processes that were set up decades ago, using CVs and cover letters. Well-crafted summaries of experience risk being measures of privilege more than ability, motivation, or team fit. The true value of an individual is not translatable through an A4 piece of paper. To truly close the digital skills gap, business needs to think differently and act quickly.

Do the same thing, get the same results

WithYouWithMe, the digital skills social impact company I work for, commissioned a study with YouGov, researching recruitment practices across 500 UK employers. Currently, 62% of businesses still rely on outdated methodologies such as CVs, cover letters and reference checks. Despite stated ambition to fix the digital skills gap, to appeal to the neurodiverse, to increase cognitive diversity, and to be inclusive, employers dismiss job applications due to automated filters or poorly constructed menus of what ‘sufficient’ experience might look like. These outdated recruitment processes are fixated on reductive approaches to talent pools; the quickest possible route through paperwork to get to short lists of notionally qualified personnel.

A better way is to focus on the breadth of the talent pool and identify the predictive qualities that will ensure personnel can be trained quickly, deployed well and will be highly motivated to perform. A quality solution, not a quantity solution. It’s a much better way to identify talent and then to integrate them into a workforce.

Returning to the veteran community, veterans themselves often don’t realise how their skills translate in the ‘real world’. They can struggle to promote themselves for roles they’re fully capable of doing. The number of skills gained throughout a military career are extensive: leadership, effective communications, resilience, financial experience and more – but without the ability to write a CV to suit any given sector’s preferences or prejudices, they are sifted from the process. A person’s potential extends far beyond their experiences or opportunities. So, why do we continue to base recruitment processes on such a restrictive approach?

Going beyond recruitment

Businesses must actively agree on a new way of measuring and acquiring talent that is not reliant on an applicant’s ability to translate value into words on a page; not only to help businesses locate suitable candidates for the job, but also to help address the wider digital skills shortage.

Given the UK Digital Strategy wants the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a technology business – and that 82% of jobs in the UK already require digital literacy skills – the value of a new talent acquisition process is indisputable.

We’ve already seen increasing recognition of the limitations of current recruitment approaches, which is encouraging. 70% of managers have reported that their organisations are making efforts to accommodate candidates during the hiring process, with 49% of workplaces having established mandated training on inclusive hiring.

Now it’s time to take that next step.

‘Potential’ mapping for skills, aptitude, personality and more have quickly become a viable – and far superior – option, to replace outdated hiring processes. Results of these assessments can be a strong predictor of job performance and helps employers make data-driven recruitment decisions. Although the uptake to date is still relatively low – with only 11% of employers in the UK using psychometric or aptitude mapping for applicant screening – it’s a promising start, not only for the veteran workforce, but also to ensure recruitment from other under-represented groups who are excluded under the current system.

Giving everyone the chance they deserve

Veterans have so much to offer businesses in terms of life experience and honed skillsets. Their employment ensures genuine diversity at the heart of a workforce; diversity of lived experience, cognitive diversity, and a transfer of skills across sectors.

‘Potential’ mapping empowers organisations to help veterans gain meaningful employment.

And a new approach to recruitment and recycling of human talent means companies can benefit from a wealth of skills and knowledge that will contribute directly to business success and output.

It’s a better way to manage the talent of the future.

Sally Walker was the first female Director of GCHQ, where she led teams supporting military operations in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and led the cyber security operations for the London Olympic Games.

Written by
Sally Walker
March 2, 2023
Written by
March 2, 2023