Could Ex-Forces Personnel Answer Your Skills Shortages?

Former service men and women offer businesses an unparalleled skillset, says Hayley Kirton (a blogger on the People Management website):

The UK Commission’s Employer Skills Survey 2013 reported that there were 655,000 job vacancies caused by skills shortages last year. Of those, between one-third and two-fifths were caused by a lack of applicants with soft skills, such as planning and organisation, team working and problem solving.

To those employers struggling to find staff with these abilities, I ask, why not hire an ex-squadie?

It’s certainly something that Tony Harris, an ex-officer of the British Army who won a gold medal at the this year’s Invictus Games, would like to see happen more. Speaking at a London HR Connection event, he described how, after joining the army as a “thickie non-grad”, he was eventually deployed to Helmand province, Afghanistan in 2009. While there, his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED). Harris was badly injured and, despite undergoing more than 20 operations, he was left with a persistent infection in his left foot. So, in 2010, Harris made the difficult decision to have his leg amputated.

Harris’s strength of character in a situation he described as “a constant kick in the teeth” is remarkable. Yet his first thoughts upon receiving his life-changing injury were not about himself: “I remember coming to and immediately checking everybody else was ok.”

He then went on to describe how two young soldiers he’d been travelling with navigated six further IEDs to make sure he could be lifted to safety, saving his life. I know of few other organisations who have staff capable of this degree of team loyalty and ability to work calmly and methodically under pressure.

According to Ministry of Defence figures, about 20,000 people leave the UK Armed Forces every year. Harris urged the gathered HR professionals to help ex-forces personnel, some of whom may have anticipated spending their entire working life in the services, identify other areas where they could shine. “Try and identify the areas where people can get into employment,” he said.

In July, HRH Prince Charles gave a not dissimilar speech at the Business In The Community’s Responsible Business Awards gala dinner. Praising the country’s troops, he said: “Loyalty, integrity, teamwork and the ability to work calmly and with discipline and good humour under intense pressure are qualities that any business must surely value highly. But the transition is by no means easy, and we should not pretend it is, even for the able-bodied. For those who have been wounded, of course, the difficulties are greater still.”

HR professionals can certainly do their bit to give these men and women the opportunity of employment beyond their life in the forces. And those already recruiting from this pool will tell you that there’s a wealth of skilled candidates among them.

What are your experiences of hiring a former services personnel?


Kirton, H. (2014) Could Ex-Forces Personnel Answer Your Skills Shortages? Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 01 November, 2014].


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