Durham County Council has signalled that it could soon adopt a far more proactive stance on hiring service veterans than is typically seen among UK employers. In a 3 April statement, the Council revealed that, under internal proposals, it may guarantee job interviews for any veterans who apply for jobs there.

If agreed, the proposals would apply to people who are currently serving in the regular armed forces and are within 12 weeks of their discharge date, should they meet the minimum criteria for the relevant role.

Alternatively, a veteran whose most recent, long-term employer was one of the armed forces – and where no more than three years has elapsed since they left – would also be given an interview if they meet the minimum requirements.

According to Northern Echo coverage of the proposals, there are around 61,000 working-age veterans in the North-East – equivalent to 3.5% of the regional, working population. In 2012, the Council and the County Durham Partnership signed the Armed Forces Covenant: a promise from the nation that those who serve, or have served, in the armed forces will be treated fairly.

Since then, the Council has set up an Armed Forces Forum that encourages partner organisations to take positive steps to ensure that neither current military personnel nor veterans are disadvantaged as a result of their service.

Council community engagement head Gordon Elliott said: “This scheme demonstrates our commitment to the Armed Forces Covenant, and as one of the largest employers in the county it is important we do all we can to help veterans get into work. We know veterans have many skills and qualities they can bring into our organisation and gaining suitable employment is an important step in their transition to civilian life.”

Why aren’t more civilian employers taking this approach?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “This may surprise many people, but there are actually quite a lot of stakeholders in this space who want to do right by veterans and be able to offer them civilian employment. The main problem that our research in this field has highlighted is one of translation: what are the skills that veterans are bringing with them? Another is: how do you dispel the notion that the services are about command and control – ie, giving and receiving orders – and encourage employers to see that veterans can align their skills with management styles that are more current, relevant and in demand?

“So, areas such as project management, information security, clear communication and accountability are really valuable to emphasise here. One of the real plus points that our research identified was the absolutely inextricable linkage between teamwork and leadership. In civilian organisations, those qualities tend to be talked about quite separately – whereas in the services, they are seen as interdependent.”

Cooper notes: “In an interview setting, a typical military response would be to say ‘We’, especially in a competence-based interview – use of which is quite widespread. However, a civilian response would come very much from an ‘I’ perspective: ‘I achieved this, I solved that, I was able to demonstrate competence in this specific skill in this specific situation.’ So it’s a language and culture problem – it doesn’t really stem from a lack of goodwill.

“In fact, during our research, I have been staggered by the amount of goodwill, effort and resources that certain organisations are investing in this issue. Firms such as Barclays, and now Durham County Council, are really willing to give veterans a chance.”

However, Cooper adds, “one group that tends not to receive enough attention here is early leavers, who’ve had short terms of service and perhaps joined up because they were unable to find civilian employment. We discovered that while they found their experience in the services transformational – in the sense that it equipped them with skills and capabilities they didn’t have before – they may have had lower levels of education beforehand. As a result, they often have more of a struggle with the transition phase than longer-serving personnel, or officers, who have more of an immediate claim to leadership.”

For further insights on these fascinating issues, download the Institute’s new report Leadership Redeployed