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Life out of uniform

Many firms are finding that staff recruited from the armed forces have a host of valuable skills

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With skills shortages threatening to cripple the engineering sector, many companies are having to be more imaginative when it comes to their recruitment policies. With schools and universities failing to produce enough technically minded individuals, far-sighted firms, from automotive giant Jaguar Land Rover to plastics engineering specialist Igus, are tapping into alternative areas to meet their employment needs.

JLR has a long history of taking on ex-service personnel to start new careers in the automotive industry, and it expects to employ 1,000 ex-military staff by 2020. It’s a policy that has delivered mutual benefits: JLR has applied the transferable skills and experience of ex-armed forces workers across the factory floor at one of its main plants in Solihull, while the new employees get to work for an internationally acclaimed organisation that pays good wages and provides stimulating careers.

For JLR, ex-service personnel bring numerous positive character traits – discipline, precision, pride, determination, to name but a few. Another reason for the recruitment policy is the company’s culture. JLR promotes a team ethos, particularly on the factory floor where colleagues are expected to work closely together and to look out for each other to get the job done.

Passionate potential

Ian Harnett, executive director of human resources at JLR, says: “As the UK’s largest automotive manufacturer, we have an obligation to advance the skills and capability of the industry, and, in doing so, provide opportunities for passionate people to unleash their full potential. That is why we are making it our mission to see the number of people recruited into our business from the military increase significantly in coming years.”

Meanwhile, Igus, the Northampton manufacturer of high-tech chains and bearings, has also recognised the benefits of employing ex-services personnel. Around 10% of its 100-strong workforce come from military backgrounds. Justin Leonard, a director at the company, says that the targeted recruitment policy has proved to be a resounding success.

“Ex-forces personnel have a lot of good skills for the technical sales side of the job – they are confident, always well turned-out, and have good timekeeping, but above all they have a great ability to develop rapport quickly with customers,” says Leonard. “Many of them performed complex roles in the military, and that means they are also very good at absorbing technical product information quickly and accurately.

“For the individuals in question, we offer well-paid jobs where every day is different, along with the chance to meet lots of people. Often, the greatest fear that ex-service personnel have when they leave the military is that a ‘9-5 job’ will be boring. That’s not the case at Igus. We offer a stimulating working environment that brings a lot of variety, and that’s a good incentive to work for us.”

Igus uses several methods to recruit service leavers, with much assistance provided by the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), a government-backed body that helps ex-armed forces personnel to resettle into civilian life. It also has links with British Forces Resettlement Services, a social enterprise that works alongside the Ministry of Defence and CTP to provide opportunities. The company also attends job fairs and is always happy to engage with ex-military delegates who approach its stand.

For Igus, ex-military personnel have proved particularly suitable for area sales engineer roles. The company has developed a robust nine-week training programme, which starts with two weeks of intensive product training in its warehouse, where it designs and manufactures high-tech chains and bearings. In the following weeks there is a scheduled introduction to its internal operations, such as marketing and sales, with joint customer site visits. After the sixth week, the recruits are encouraged to visit customers on their own. Eventually, area sales engineers are out on the road for four days a week, with one day in the office for administrative purposes.

Back on dry land

One of the ex-military recruits taken on by Igus is John Barker, who joined the Royal Navy after finishing school at 17 and became a radio engineering artificer on board Vanguard-class submarines. Barker’s responsibilities at sea involved maintaining and fixing a plethora of internal and external communications systems, including periscopes, radar and early-warning systems. “It was a technical role and my colleagues and I would be expected to deal with complex issues at very short notice,” he says. “That led to a real camaraderie on board.”

Barker’s military career was brought to a sudden end when he suffered a serious back injury. After his recovery and medical discharge, the Royal Navy helped him with a resettlement package that included preparation for civilian life. He looked for work for a short while before seeing a four-line job advert for a technical sales role at Igus.

“I was intrigued by the job advert because of its brevity,” he says. “It didn’t beat around the bush. And that summed up the people at Igus – they were straight-talking and approachable. As an ex-military person those were character traits that I appreciated. So I took the job.”

Barker, now 28, is employed as a sales engineer handling Igus’s range of energy chains, with much of his time spent visiting customers. He says: “One day I can be at Felixstowe port looking at cranes, and the next day I can be inside an industrial-scale printer. No two days are the same – and it’s that diversity that keeps me on my toes. I’m experiencing new situations, and I really enjoy that.”

While the role at Igus is very different from that on board a submarine, Barker says he still applies many of the skills he learned in the navy. “My technical background is a benefit,” he says. “I can sit down with clients and talk knowledgeably about issues such as electro-magnetic compatibility. It gives me an edge in certain areas.

“And there are other traits that transfer well. The military gives you a ‘can do’ attitude, and that’s useful when out on the road. It gave me discipline and resilience, and they are valuable characteristics, too.”

Barker loved his time in the navy, but says he has settled well into civilian life. “It’s great that Igus has other ex-military employees,” he says. “We have a bit of banter. It’s a great team of people here.”

As companies such as Igus and JLR prove, ex-military personnel can make great technically minded additions to a workforce.

A helping hand back into civilian life
The Ministry of Defence provides a range of services to help ex-armed forces personnel to resettle into civilian life.

These services are provided by the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), an agreement between the MoD and Right Management, part of the Manpower Group.

The CTP provides resettlement services for those leaving the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Marines, matching military leavers with prospective employers. It provides support from two years before discharge, through to two years after, offering services such as creating a CV through to learning interview skills, plus researching and applying for jobs.

To date, CTP has assisted more than 180,000 service leavers with the transition to civilian life and supported thousands of organisations looking to employ ex-service personnel.

CTP has nine resettlement centres in the UK, and one in Germany. Its headquarters are in London, and it has a vocational training centre in Aldershot, Hampshire.

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