PRESS RELEASE: Battlefield to boardroom – British businesses missing key productivity and skills boost by ignoring military veterans, study shows

Businesses are missing out on key opportunities to boost their skills base and productivity by not effectively employing well-qualified former military personnel, according to new information released today by The Institute of Leadership & Management.

According to The Institute, 86 per cent of veterans say business managers still don’t understand how military honed skills can transfer into boosting businesses on civvy street.

Coinciding with both Armed Forces Day (30 June) and the 100th anniversary year of the ending of World War One, The Institute of Leadership & Management has released its new report Tales of Transition, which identifies the barriers to helping ex-forces personnel enter the civilian workplace. The report also details the steps that business leaders can take to support the transition of around 15,000 people[1] who leave the UK Regular Armed Forces each year.

Based on findings from a series focus groups, the report reveals that veterans are often being recruited to jobs that don’t match their skill sets, which goes to affect productivity when they’re not used to their full potential.

At a time when the UK’s business community could benefit from a productivity boost and an uplift in skills, the research found that service leavers often feel disadvantaged when they enter competitive ‘civvy street’, despite the years of varied training they’ve received and the skills they’ve developed during military service.

The focus groups were made up of representatives from all three military services, people who had left or were in the process of leaving military services and civilians with experience of employing service leavers. It included representatives from Help for Heroes, Deloitte LLP, Barclays UK VETS Programme, Officers Association and ILM, who discussed the key issues from both employers and veterans.

The key findings and highlights from the focus group research include:

  • Military life – Participants felt that military personnel had a strong culture of learning, as around 30 per cent of their time in the military is based around learning and developing skills. It is also felt that the military lifestyle creates a culture of strong team work and continual improvement where good teamwork is often considered more effective than the actions of an individual.
  • Barriers to employment – There is a stark contrast between the language and corporate behaviour used by civilians and veterans, so it’s unsurprising that culture dominated almost half of the sessions (46 per cent), as a barrier to employment. Participants also discussed issues in demonstrating confidence, ‘selling themselves’ to civilian bosses and the struggles they faced when finding employment at a similar skill level to the one they were operating in while part of the military, often due to biased civilian perceptions.
  • Better transition – The group recognised that a range of services are available to help the transition for veterans. However, it was believed that the most vulnerable and in need of these services failed to access them, as they were unsure about which options best addressed their own transition.

According to The Institute of Leadership & Management’s Leadership Redeployed report, 86 per cent of survey respondents said many employers don’t understand how military experience transfers to other sectors. Also, 69 per cent said many civilian employers are not aware of the talent, skills and attributes of ex-forces workers and so they miss out on the full benefit of employing them, even when they do offer them a job.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as the research shows the positive perspective veterans have about the leadership skills they’ve developed in the military and that many people do make a successful transition into civilian jobs. Veterans identified leading a team, people management and communication as the top three leadership capabilities – all of which are crucial in the civilian workplace. In addition, almost half (47 per cent) of survey respondents said they described the transition of their military skills into a civilian environment as a positive experience and 41 per cent said it was easier to seek help and develop a suitable support network in civilian organisations (40 per cent).

Kate Cooper, head of research, policy and standards at The Institute of Leadership & Management, said: “Members of the Armed Forces acquire many new skills and capabilities during their service, the skills and capabilities that modern organisations need now.

Our research encourages employers and veterans to think again about how truly transferable these skills and capabilities really are.”

Spokesperson for Help for Heroes added: “Help for Heroes fully supports the findings of this report. Veterans are skilled, drilled, proud and driven and employers need to recognise the value former Service Personnel can bring to their company. This research highlights the barriers faced by those transitioning into civvy life, and we hope leaders will heed the advice given on how best to support this transition.”

The partners behind the Tales of Transition report have created an online central resource hub to help businesses ease the transition for any veterans they employ. This comprehensive toolkit is available on The Institute’s website:   



Notes to editors:

Kate Cooper is available for interview. Please contact Pippa Hanson / Luke Aldridge at Camargue: / or 01242 577277.

To accompany this story, we can provide the following:

  • * Tales of Transition report, based on the findings from focus groups
  • ** Leadership Redeployed report, based on an online survey
  • Online resource hub
  • Interview with Kate Cooper, who led on the research
  • Case studies: Veterans and employer
  • Stock images of office workers

Supporting quotes:

Chris Balmforth, CEO of SSiFM, the UK’s only pay as you go total facilities management company (veteran): “I’m still adapting to civvy street. I think every soldier is always a soldier once you've started. It’s always hard to adapt and always hard to overcome how I would like to react to certain things. We were always told to turn up five minutes before five minutes and if you turned up any time later than that then you were late, but actually you weren’t. But you see a lot of that, and people who don't look you in the eye when they are talking to you or don't stand up straight when they are talking to you or they are on their phones constantly, things like that where you think, ‘this can’t be right’ and you want to say something to them but clearly you can’t because that’s not the way of the world. But the traits you've got from the army - you work hard, you rise above it, perseverance, pride, planning and preparation, all these different sayings that come from the army are naturally embedded in you anyway, so you should naturally try to get to the places that you want to get to afterwards.”

Mark Budd, Consultant at P2 Consulting (veteran): “I cannot over emphasis how much you need to plan your transition. I realised with 7 years left that I needed an option 2 - an exit route. I did a Career Transition Programme and I spent the last 18 months pushing things forward by travelling into London, having a coffee and a conversation with anyone who might be useful. I think people underestimate the power of a network and if you ask the right questions on LinkedIn and other platforms you show a degree of humility and say, ‘I don’t know this, but I want to learn’. People want our skills and speaking to friends we have realised that skills honed in the military actually do work in civvy street. I got myself out and about quite early and I believe everything starts with conversation. My mission was to have as many conversations with people as possible in order to find a potential route out and people were very willing to help.”

Stuart Tootal, Head of the Barclays Armed Forces Armed Forces Transition, Employment & Resettlement (AFTER) Programme, one of the VETS partners said: “Veterans have a wealth of experience and possess innate skill sets that make them a valuable asset in the civilian world.  However, the research shows that too many businesses are failing to appreciate the commercial value that these individuals can bring to the workplace and as a result too many veterans are in employment that underutilises their skills.

“The real benefit of VETS is that it brings together existing activities to enhance support for veterans, working collaboratively to help them use their skills and enhance their careers. It will also assist employers in seeking to hire veterans into their workforce.  The value that ex-military employees bring should not be underestimated, and at Barclays we have already benefited from hiring from the highly skilled veteran talent pool, while avoiding paying expensive fees to recruiters.”

Olivia Cox, TV presenter/model/influencer (veteran), said: "One of the hardest things about leaving the military for me was losing the sense of purpose and structure to my days. I had to re-learn how to organise my own time without the scheduling and high-pressure scenarios I had been used to, and all in an unfamiliar environment. Without compulsory training exercises and group workouts, I felt for a long time like I'd lost my way, and I still miss the community feel of being 'in'. In the Army, respect and discipline are paramount - as a civilian, I struggled to adjust to the anonymity."

Alan Macklin, Vice Chair of APM and Principal Programme Manager at Jacobs. Formally a Major General in the British Army

“Members of our Armed Forces are embedded in an environment that promotes high levels of personal development, resilience, self-discipline and commitment to a greater purpose than self; at all levels. During their service about 30 per cent of their time is spent training and that training is set in a context that recognises the need for adaptability to different circumstances.  Service leavers at all ages bring an unmatched ethos towards team work along with an ability to respond to changing circumstances and skills across a variety of trades.

This research analyses some of the issues facing Service leavers and employers: to the former it should give them confidence to adapt by learning a new language to sell their old skills: to the latter it shines a light to break down stereotyped views and opens a door to access untapped potential to transform their business performance.”

The Institute of Leadership & Management is a world-renowned specialist membership body that raises professional standards of more than 30,000 leaders, managers, coaches and mentors. Our mission is to inspire great leadership, everywhere. We are a registered charity and governed by a board of trustees. ILM, the UK's largest awarding organisation of leadership qualifications, part of the City & Guilds group, is a strategic partner.