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Take charge of your transition
How can you approach your resettlement and transition journey in a successful and positive way? ‘The best and most practical advice I can offer is this: ask for help,’ says Ahmed Al-Nahhas, head of the military team at London-based law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp. And he’s here with some sound advice on how to do just that.
Leaving any job can be daunting, but leaving the Forces family and taking your first steps on civvy street can be even more challenging – for a variety of reasons. This has been recognised by the MoD, and it is great to see that there is now more help than ever to prepare you for this enormous change. Having said that, planning ahead will definitely make your transition easier …
Resettlement support is out there
One of the first challenges you may face after a successful military career is finding a job that would welcome your specific skills. Thankfully, Service personnel have many skills and qualities that are transferable.
The Services invest a great deal of time in the career development of personnel, and – as you will know – offer many opportunities to obtain skills, qualifications and training while serving, much more so than most civilian organisations.
Look to your strengths and consider your expertise a real advantage to your job applications. There are many trade-specific skills that can be very niche. Military technical expertise is highly sought after – for example, in the engineering, logistics, aviation, maritime and security industries.
I think, in many ways, what is even more attractive to some civilian employers is the range of personal qualities that Veterans often come equipped with, such as leadership, resilience, teamwork, respect for others, loyalty and a strong work ethic. These qualities always translate well into employment, and many private-sector organisations are starting to understand the benefits of having Veterans and Reservists involved in management roles, whatever the industry. So it’s not just whatyou know, but whoyou are that matters.
The MoD, through the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), provides resettlement support to eligible Service leavers and their spouses for up to two years before and after leaving the Forces. This can include providing learning credits to help leavers gain qualifications. The CTP also assists with CVs and interview techniques. For those Veterans who have been wounded (depending on the injury), these timings may be different. The good news is that there is now support of some kind for everyone who leaves the Services, no matter what their reason for departure.
Many charities, such as The Poppy Factory and The Royal British Legion, run career and resettlement fairs, which inform Service leavers of support and opportunities that might be available to them on termination of their service. I would certainly recommend attending one of these once you start thinking about leaving the Services so that you can gain ideas as to future employment opportunities. British Forces Resettlement Services holds events throughout the year where you can meet advisers and potential employers in person.
As another example, the Royal Marines Charity, offers funding for vocational training for a variety of civilian careers, and can provide advice and guidance to those who wish to set up their own businesses.
The Armed Forces Covenant
Businesses, charities and public-sector organisations are encouraged by the government to sign up to the Armed Forces Covenant to demonstrate their support to the Veteran community. The Armed Forces Covenant was introduced in 2011. It is a promise by the nation to ensure that those who serve or who have served in the Armed Forces, and their families, are treated fairly. The focus is on helping the Armed Forces community have the same access to governmental and commercial services as the public.
According to the MoD, 2,000 organisations had signed the Covenant by December 2017; the Post Office became the 3,000th signatory in November 2018. To show our own commitment to supporting Veterans, Bolt Burdon Kemp has also signed up to the Armed Forces Covenant.
Take a look at the signatories to the Covenant and see if there are any opportunities available to you from prospective employers, who will look favourably upon your skills and experience gained in the Services.
Armed Forces Covenant: www.armedforcescovenant.gov.uk
Bolt Burdon Kemp: www.boltburdonkemp.co.uk
British Forces Resettlement Services: www.bfrss.org.uk
Devon Forces Family: www.devonforcesfamily.org.uk
Forces Law: www.forceslaw.com
Haig Housing Trust: www.haighousing.org.uk
Homes for Heroes: www.ukhomes4heroes.com/page10.html
MoD moving school packs: www.gov.uk/government/publications/moving-school-packs
Poppy Factory: www.poppyfactory.org
Royal British Legion: www.britishlegion.org.uk
Royal Marines Charity: https://theroyalmarinescharity.org.uk
Veterans and Families Support Hub: www.vfrhub.com
Veterans’ Gateway’s Self Help page: https://support.veteransgateway.org.uk/app/self_help/
Warwickshire County Council: www.warwickshire.gov.uk
Forces’ Family Federations
Your Service family
When you leave the Forces, it is not just your working circumstances that change. Many Service leavers will also have families, and they will need to find a new home and adapt to a new way of life too. This is challenging both emotionally and logistically, and will include deciding where to settle down, adapting to new cultural and financial circumstances, considering a spouse’s career, children’s schooling, and sometimes learning to live with a permanent injury without the immediate support of a Medical Centre, DCMH or rehabilitation, as often found close to Service family accommodation.
Service families are often adaptable, having been required to move home countless times throughout their family life, and developing keen skills of managing resources and budgets to a deadline! They also develop resilience in accepting the risks of deployment, often at short notice, dealing with injury and stress, and generally having to ‘roll with the punches’.
Service wives and husbands should not underestimate the transferable skill set that they too have built up while supporting their serving spouse, and they may need to consider returning to work or establishing themselves in a new career.
If you have children, they are likely to need to change schools. In order to make the transition as smooth as possible, the MoD has produced a helpful guide for parents which can be found here: www.gov.uk/government/publications/moving-school-packs There is practical advice, and the main thing to remember is that the more information you can provide about your child, the smoother their transition will be.
Despite their great strengths and adaptability, Service families still need help, and there are a number of initiatives under way to refocus welfare provision on the needs of the family.
Each of the Forces’ Family Federations (Army Families Federation, Naval Families Federation,Royal Air Force Families Federation) have support and resources available to guide you through these topics, which you may have never had to think about before, due to the Forces having taken care of this for you with each internal move.
The three federations have just completed a two-year project called the Tri-Service Families Transition Project– this has looked at how to improve the barriers Service families face when transitioning to civilian life. Their brief included looking at housing, finances, schooling, employment and the emotional impact for not just the serving person but also their family, when leaving the Forces.
It is hope that this project will now embed positive changes and greater levels of support for Service leavers and their families. The Naval Families Federation has published a guide aimed at Service leavers and their families, entitled A Transition Guide for Naval Service and Royal Marines Service Leavers and Families, which provides clear and constructive guidance to help approach the process and make it a success.
For advice on housing, a great place to start is the CTP housing resettlement guide – see www.ctp.org.uk/resettlement-guides/housing-396670 This has information about the steps to take to find accommodation in the UK and abroad. There is practical information for both single people and families.Veterans’ Gateway’s Self Help page at https://support.veteransgateway.org.uk/app/self_help/ includes telephone numbers and email addresses for the Haig Housing Trust and details of its 24-hour helpline, run in conjunction with Connect Assist and Shelter: 0808 802 1212. There is also information about applying for schools and how to access support. Do not be put off by the name – Veterans’ Gateway is not just for Veterans or Service leavers themselves, but for their families too!
Find out all about the invaluable help and advice offered by Veterans' Gateway in the special feature Click here.
There may also be support schemes available in your local area. For example, a number of charities offer ‘help to buy’ support schemes or housing support generally, such as Stoll and Homes for Heroes. Do not hesitate to ask councils in the areas you are considering moving to if there is any support or guidance they can give you as a Service leaver, as well as information about things like bin collections and where the local recycling centre is. Examples of those councils offering great support information are Warwickshire County Counciland Devon Forces Family.
Those who may encounter problems with landlords or tenants can obtain free initial advice from Forces Law, a network of solicitors who specialise in acting for Services personnel.
If you joined the Services at a young age, you may never have had responsibility for things like paying Council Tax, water rates and other utilities, because these are normally charged at subsidised rates and/or deducted direct from your pay when living in Services accommodation.
You may also be unaware of the very high expenses that come with moving home, public transport and the other costs that come with life outside of camp; train fares in particular can be shocking and can really influence where you decide to settle.
The Family Federation for your service can provide you with support and guidance here, and help you budget accordingly. Currently, seeking financial advice is not mandated when you leave all of the Forces, but I’d highly recommend it in order to minimise any unwelcome shocks when going through transition.
The emotional aspect
Military culture and life involves a very different community spirit to that in civilian life. When you leave, you may feel unsafe, anxious and uncertain about the future. Joining Veteran support hubs (e.g. the Veterans and Families Support Hub) can also achieve the same objective, helping you engage with those who understand what you are going through in the local community.
Local councils can also help by advertising or promoting groups where both Service leavers and their spouses and families can mix with the local community to get to know others and feel a sense of belonging, be that through coffee morning groups, nurseries, volunteering opportunities or local walking clubs.
These days, social media channels can also provide a means of connecting with those who understand the challenges and adjustments of life outside the Forces. Acceptance and understanding can be vital in getting used to your new circumstances.
My clients tell me that it can be like leaving a family, but think positively – it is the start of something new!
Please don’t underestimate the emotional impact for you and/or your family when your military career ends – 99% of transitions happen successfully, but that doesn’t mean that the process is without its challenges. Advance planning and budgeting can make this process much easier for you.
The best and most practical advice I can offer is this: ask for help. There are many people and organisations willing to support you – the family federations, the CTP, Veterans’ Gateway, charities, local councils and publications such as QUEST, who are all focused on helping you make a smooth and successful transition from Service life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ahmed Al-Nahhas is head of the specialist military team at Bolt Burdon Kemp, acting exclusively for Service personnel in claims involving personal injury, clinical negligence, bullying and harassment. He can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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