Untapped potential of ex-military personnel

Following Armed Forces Day last Saturday, Paul Raby urges businesses to consider the untapped potential of ex-military personnel.

As the infrastructure pipeline expands, it is essential that we have in place the skilled and diverse workforce able to deliver our future vision.

As we work towards bridging the ageing workforce and competition for upcoming talent needed to fulfil the sector’s ever-growing requirements, we must be mindful that the construction industry requires more than 230,000 new recruits by 2020 . In addition to adopting a wide range of approaches to recruitment, we have specifically identified that there is an often overlooked talent source which possesses all of the required skills to propel the industry forward.

The armed forces community is ideally suited to our industry. Operating in testing environments and developing a range of essential skills including project management, logistics, and having the ability to work as a team, the skill sets possessed by ex-service personnel are those required in the construction sector.

Overcoming barriers

With around 20,000 men and women leaving the armed forces each year, they can provide the industry with a substantial number of potential recruits and we as an industry can in return offer a plethora of exciting and motivating job opportunities. However, upon looking more closely at employment opportunities in the sector, research has found that in some cases employers are undervaluing the leadership skills of ex-service personnel, whilst 68% of ex-military personnel were unsure whether their experience was transferable to construction. As with the perceptions of school leavers considering a career in construction, this is a perception we need to change.

Our commitment

Armed Forces Day provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the contribution provided by ex- forces personnel and raise awareness of the career opportunities available in our industry. At Balfour Beatty we are proud to support our ex-military employees, and have committed to supporting the current and future military community through our signatory of the Armed Forces Corporate Covenant “recognising the value serving personnel, both regular and reservists, veterans and military families contribute to our business and our country."

Within this commitment, we seek to support the employment of veterans young and old, in addition to supporting our employees who choose to be members of the reserve forces, by accommodating their training and deployment where possible.

Our armed forces forum, which operates across the UK, focusses on the recruitment, retention, development and support for the armed forces community and is making strides towards a greater armed forces community throughout Balfour Beatty, one example of this is being our West Sussex County Council contract comprising a workforce of 10% ex-military personnel. Additionally, we are pleased to be sponsoring the Warrior Challenge with Andy Reid and Glen Hughes taking on a 14-day cycling and kayaking challenge in honour of six soldiers who lost their lives in 2012 while serving in Afghanistan.

As an industry, we continue to invest in up-skilling our workforce through organisations such as The 5% Club, by pledging to have a minimum 5% of our UK workforce enrolled on formalised apprentice, sponsored student and/or graduate development schemes, but it is also important to recognise and utilise the wealth of transferable skills ex-service personnel can bring to our industry. 

James Savage, Balfour Beatty design coordinator and RAF Police non-commissioned officer reservist commented: "I started life as a graduate structural engineer and decided to join the reserves as I have always had a vested interest in the Royal Air Force and this enabled me to get the best of both worlds. As an engineer and an airman, I took pride in both aspects of my career.

"I was already an RAF Police NCO reservist when I joined Balfour Beatty. The company is very supportive of my reservist career. I’m entitled to 10 working days extra annual leave to support my annual continuous training which I need to complete each year as part of my role. I have flexibility meaning that if I am required urgently I am able to support my reserve squadron when I can. I am also able to contribute to the future of Balfour Beatty’s Armed Forces Support Group.

"During my time with the reserves, I have gained a variety of skills including leadership, communication, management, investigation and critical analysis. I’ve been able to utilise these skills in my work as a design coordinator with Balfour Beatty, helping analyse design timelines and processes. Along with my improved communications skills, I now feel more confident in my role as a design coordinator and certainly more competent to deliver my role.

"I know from experience that it can be very difficult to raise the issue of being a Reservist when you apply for a role as many companies do not fully understand what that means for them as a business. I’m pleased to say that my line manager at Balfour Beatty was very keen in my interview when I mentioned the Reserves and I wish more companies were like this "

Paul Raby is the group human resources director at Balfour Beatty.