Heading for Civvy Street

The organisation

Every year, about 24,000 people leave the UK’s Armed Forces. Roughly 7,000 of them are in training and so not eligible for assistance, but the remaining 17,000 receive significant support from the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) directorate of resettlement – where the primary purpose is to enable service leavers to develop a civilian career.

The challenge

There is no such thing as a typical service leaver. They could have been in the armed forces for between three and 30 years and have skills ranging from engineering and management to medical.

Lieutenant commander Alan Dinham, a member of the directorate’s staff, explains why it is essential that the MoD offers them all a useful resettlement service: “It is a key component of our recruitment package. Many people join the armed forces because of the excellent training they receive, and because they recognise that this will help them in later civilian employment.

“Because servicemen and women know that the resettlement package is always there, they don’t feel they have to move on before it’s too late. We ask a lot of our employees in terms of danger and relocation, so we compensate them with a good benefits package, of which this is just one part.”

By 1998 the directorate had a staff of 100. However, a fresh round of budget cuts in the armed forces meant that this staffing level was unsustainable. The problem was how to maintain an effective resettlement service with a much smaller staff.

The activity

The solution was to set up the MoD’s first ever partnership arrangement. It hired Right Coutts, a global career transition and organisational consulting firm, to help create the career transition partnership (CTP). This provides service leavers with a range of workshop, course and career guidance tools.

A career transition workshop analyses leavers’ skills, interests and abilities, to help them to develop positive career paths. Other workshops cover issues such as self-employment, housing, interview techniques and financial advice. One-to-one sessions build on the lessons from group workshops. Trial attachments range from a day to five weeks and enable service leavers to gain knowledge and experience of a civilian workplace. An online job-finding resource allows service leavers to search thousands of live vacancies.

The resettlement training centre at Aldershot offers training in areas as diverse as accountancy, facilities management, HR, appliance repairs, teacher training, marketing and selling, health and safety and security management. Many courses result in civilian qualifications.

Finally, the CTP actively markets service leavers to potential employers and has forged strong relationships with employers including Comet, Mercedes and Renault.

The outcome

The MoD is positive about the outcome. It has transferred many risks to its partner, as Dinham explains: “To take scaling issues for example, a commercial organisation, such as Right Coutts, is much better placed than the MoD is to increase or decrease staff numbers according to demand.”

Most importantly, the CTP is successful at helping service leavers into civilian employment. A total of 95% of those who use the CTP find suitable employment within six months of leaving the armed forces. Only 20% take longer than three months.

Since the CTP was formed, many more service leavers have taken up the offer of help. Before 1998, about 45% used the service. Now roughly 80% do so.

The MoD is in the process of retendering for the CTP contract. When it first advertised in April 2003, 30 organisations were interested, but the MoD has taken full tenders from only four of them. Dinham expects a final decision to be made by April. He is planning improvements to the CTP, including more regional delivery, better use of technology in areas such as e-learning, and improved marketing of service leavers to potential employers.

Learning points for HR

Dinham advises anyone setting up something similar to pay sufficient attention to marketing and communications. “You’ve got to convey the right message, via verbal, printed and electronic communications, to all those inside the organisation, as well as to those external parties. These include training providers and potential employers who are crucial to the scheme’s success,” he says.

Employee viewpoint

Jayne Hammond-Smith, an ex-RAF sergeant administrator, who has recently taken up the post of personnel manager at Cranleigh School, claims that the CTP helped her to raise her horizons.

“I didn’t even know what an HR manager was until I did the career transition workshop,” she recalls. “I got the job on the strength of my CV and military experience, but if it hadn’t been for the CTP I would only have applied for personal assistant jobs. Apparently I was short-listed with five other people, including an Oxbridge graduate, and an experienced HR manager from the City, so I’m very pleased with myself!”

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