What are the skills that your dream employee would have? Would they be trained to apply concepts to a variety of situations and apply professional judgement under stressful conditions? Or maybe you would like them to be able to follow procedures and take responsibility for equipment worth thousands of pounds. Or do you see them being encouraged to use their creativity to resolve problems on their own. If you have not already guessed, I’m describing a trained soldier in the British Army.

What are skills for the 4th Industrial Revolution?

Also known as ‘skills for the future’. These are skills which underpin other skills, they are the higher orders skills which allow other skills to be learnt. Skills Development Scotland call these ‘meta skills’ and I believe that people who have served in our Armed Forces demonstrate these skills in abundance!

What exactly are meta skills?

Skills Development Scotland, in their recent publication on Skills 4.0, identify meta skills as:

  • Focusing (sorting, attention, filtering)
  • Communicating (receiving information, listening, giving information, storytelling)
  • Curiosity (observation, questioning, information sourcing, problem recognition),
  • Integrity (self-awareness, ethics, self-control)
  • Feeling (empathy, social conscience)
  • Creativity (imagination, idea generation, visualising, maker mentality)
  • Adapting (openness, critical reflection, adaptability, self-learning, resilience)
  • Collaborating (relationship building, teamworking and collaboration, social perceptiveness, global and cross-cultural competence)
  • Sense making (pattern recognition, holistic thinking, synthesis, opportunity recognition, analysis)
  • Initiative (courage, independent thinking, risk taking, decision making, self belief, self motivation, responsibility, enterprise)
  • Leading (inspiring others, influencing, motivating others, developing others, change catalyst)
  • Critical thinking (deconstructive, logical, applying judgement, computational thinking)

What is the problem?

At first glance it is difficult to equate the role of a soldier to civilian employment. Yet, when we look deeper into the basic skills of a soldier, there are a significant number of meta skills being used that are highly desirable to the civilian employment market (See Vignettes 1, 2 & 3).

For example, all training in the Army is focused on the team completing a task. The success of the team is always put above the success of the individual. This fosters a selfless mindset. From the very start of service life this mindset in embedded into the individual. Whilst this focus on team tasks produces highly effective teams, it can also result in service leavers struggling to switch mindset and failing to understand how to capture and present their skills when they are transitioning out of service life and seeking employment. Combined with the fact that promotion in the Services is done via a paper boarding process, this means that many people leaving the Services will have no experience of interviews, no experience of the job application process, few personal career management skills and no experience of salary negotiation. This does not mean that they do not have significant knowledge, skills and experience; what it means is they might not even make it to interview depending on your HR processes.

As well as team focused training, another cultural trait of service life is what is often affectionately called the ‘bubble of Service life’ which alludes to the nature of life in the Armed Forces. This is a way of describing that we live and work in a ‘total institution’ environment. A total institution is one that provides an all-encompassing service to the people within it, such as housing, feeding, clothing, medical and welfare services. We need to provide this all-encompassing service to our people because we need them to be able to deploy at very short notice and we need them to be mobile. This is necessary in order to meet the main aims of defence (Which are currently: Protect the UK, Protect the UK’s global influence and Promote UK prosperity1).

Secondly, I believe that there is a lack of awareness within civilian society about the huge variety of roles, technical expertise and skills that service life inculcates. These misconceptions are often fuelled by negative newspaper headlines or sensationalised and often unrealistic TV shows but are also enhanced by the real need for discretion about the activities of the Armed Forces community to ensure personal security is maintained. Civilian awareness about the skills gained in Service is likely to further decrease as the number of Veterans reduce over the next 10 years. Data from the MOD projects Veteran numbers to decrease from 2.5 million to 1.6 million by 20282.

There is an improved level of awareness, within the military community and policy-makers, that measures must be in place to enable military personnel to adapt better to the challenges that occur at the end of their service and transition to a secondary career. One such initiative is the Future Accommodation Model in which serving people and their families are given support from the MOD to buy or rent in the community rather than living in service provided accommodation3. Another initiative enables more flexible working practices and (for some roles) the option to continue serving in the regular Army on part time hours4 this gives our people more opportunities to dip in and out of military service. These policies will help to counteract the ‘bubble of Service life’ although there will be a time-delay before the benefits are felt.

We are doing our bit. We are getting better at explaining what it is that we do but there is still more work to be done. Employers can also assist and should for two reasons. Firstly, as part of their commitment to the AF Covenant, and secondly, simply to recruit talented people into their organisations. The publication Capitalising on Military Talent5, produced by the Scottish Government, Business in the Community and Salute My Job, lists a number of ways that employers can ensure that their recruitment processes are not filtering out those who have served. These are;

  • Designate a person at senior level to champion and lead the program.
  • Create clear, transparent job descriptions and advertisements.
  • Train recruiters to interpret military experience.
  • Advertise jobs through the MOD’S Career Transition Partnership, Forces Families Jobs, and other Armed Forces support organisations (see above right).
  • Encourage your supply chain to adopt Armed Forces friendly recruitment processes.
  • Create a bespoke online portal or military hub which is visible both internally and externally.
  • Offer insight events.
  • Offer work experience opportunities.

1 https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-defence/about

2 https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/775151/20190107_Enclosure_1_Population_Projections_-_UK_Armed_Forces_Veterans_residing_in_Great_Britain_-_2016_to_2028.pdf

3 https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/future-accommodation-model-what-you-need-to-know/what-you-need-to-know-about-fam

4 https://www.gov.uk/guidance/new-employment-model

5 https://www.salutemyjob.com/veteran-employment-blog/toolkit-capitalise-on-military-talent

Vignette 1

4 years service (Likely to be operating at level 5-8 on the SCQF6): A Service person with 4 years’ service is likely to have the following skills; uses own judgement and able to interpret the rules of armed conflict, applying them to rapidly evolving situations; significant self-discipline especially during arduous and stressful situations; follows a maintenance regime to ensure equipment is fully serviceable; takes responsibility for and uses equipment from £10,000 to potentially £500,000; able to work autonomously; loyal to the team and organisation; supports the team leader in their task; communicates with many team members to complete a task; skilled in how to negotiate with others; likely to have experience of working within a multinational environment; manage self and own time; aware of own physical abilities and how to manage physical resources following health and safety guidelines.

Vignette 2

A person who has served 12 years (Likely to be operating at level 8-11 on the SCQF). The skillset is significantly developed and is likely to include the following skills: responsibility for a large team (anything from 5 up to 180 personnel); able to make decisions under pressure; responsible for safe practices and procedures; often a budget holder or responsible for equipment worth £10,000 up to potentially £2,000,000; holds a key leadership role and is responsible for setting the culture and team ethos of a small team of 5 up to larger groups of 200 personnel; responsible for allocating resources; plans and delivers projects; plans and delivers training; significant line management responsibilities, including developing personnel; accountability for performance and/or quality; negotiates with internal and external customers.

Vignette 3

Someone who has served 20+ years will be operating at a very high skill level (likely level 10-12 on the SCQF). They are likely to have the following skills: responsibility for a team or unit from 10 to potentially 10,000 personnel; able to make strategic decisions under pressure; delegates to subordinates; ultimately responsible for safe practices and procedures within the unit; often a budget holder or responsible for equipment worth £10,000 to potentially £10,000,000; holds a key strategic leadership role and is responsible for setting the culture and team ethos of a large group of people (anything from a small team up to 10,000 personnel); responsible for allocating resources; plans and delivers projects using project management tools; plans and delivers training using a systematic approach; significant line management responsibilities which includes regular feedback to subordinates.

Employers can find out more information via a variety of organisations and methods:

Contact the Career Transition Partnership (CTP) – www.ctp.org.uk

Forces Families Jobs –

The Armed Forces Covenant –

SaluteMyJob – www.salutemyjob.com

British Forces Resettlement Services (BFRS) – www.bfrss.org.uk/Information/About-BFRS.aspx

The Officers Association –

Officer Association Scotland –

Regular Forces Recruitment Agency – www.rfea.org.uk

The Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework Partnership (SCQF-P) – https://scqf.org.uk/support/support-for-learners-parents/support-for-veterans/