Until 1996, the chance of reservists being called for active service was minimal. But that changed when, faced with the Kosovo crisis, the Government pushed through the Reserve Forces Act 1996, enabling reservists to be mobilised for military action.
Since then, thousands of reservists have served in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq. The problem for employers is that workers are away for months on end (reservists can be mobilised for up to 12 months in any three-year period) and, inevitably, some do not come back.
With this new political will to use reservists (the Ministry of Defence refers to it as an “intelligent use of resources”), there is the potential for tension between employers and the Volunteer Reserve Forces (VRF). Employers have long been able to take advantage of the training given to reservists, without the risk of losing employees for extended periods. But now, the equation is different.
The Ministry of Defence has set up SaBRE (Supporting Britain’s Reservists and Employers), an organisation dedicated to informing employers of the benefits of employing members of the VRF. Among SaBRE’s activities are a series of trips to show employers and the media what reservists do in terms of training.
Training Magazine went on a trip to Kazakhstan to watch members of the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment in action. Over two days, we watched reservists undergoing battle training, carrying out live firing exercises involving jet fighters, helicopters, mortar attacks, tanks machine guns.
Everyone was impressed by the energy and skills on display and it was clear that these men and women are doing much more than playing soldiers. But how does such activity benefit the individual reservist and how does it benefit their employer?
SaBRE visits officer Captain Simon gives the official line: “Reservists develop initiative, confidence, team-building skills, self-reliance and self-discipline. They are trained to achieve their personal best and have to face challenges they would not normally face in their workplace. It is not uncommon to see a 20-year-old commanding a unit of 30 or more soldiers.”
There are hard, indisputable figures to back this up. Research carried out by Leeds Business School showed that the average reservist gets more than £9,000 worth of training every year – that is how much it would cost an employer to provide a similar level of training. This compares with a figure of £800 for the average UK employee.
Public and private-sector employers agreed that the benefits of employing a reservist outweigh the risks – with the only proviso being that small companies are more likely to feel the effects of an employee being mobilised.
David Hills, a partner in the management consultancy Hornagold and Hills, is one employer who is in favour of employing reservists. Hornagold and Hills, which has about 170 staff, employs Sgt John Willett in its IT department. Hills has nothing but praise for reservists as employees.
“To begin with we didn’t much like the sound of it. However, the arrangement has worked very well. John is self-motivated, with a certain level of self-confidence and articulation that has been enhanced by his time as a reservist. He is an excellent team-player and is very effective at communicating with his colleagues.
“While it is difficult to put a definitive value on the training that John has received from his time in the reserves, he has made an excellent employee. We would have no hesitation in considering reservists for any forthcoming vacancies.”
As for the thorny subject of mobilisation, Hills added: “As an employer, it is not really a concern. Although I can see it would be more of an issue for a smaller outfit; we are big enough that it would not materially affect us. We have had the benefits of John’s reservist training and if it happens we will deal with it.”