Ahead of Armed Forces Day, Former Group HR Director of The Go-Ahead Group, Val Proctor, shares her experiences of building a veteran employment programme.
As an HR Director, much of my career has been focused on building a diverse and productive workforce that reflects the customer base it serves. For the transport industry, ‘workplace diversity’ is more than just a buzzword – it’s a business necessity.
Over one billion journeys take place on The Go-Ahead’s Group’s rail and bus services each year, meaning its customer base is about as broad as it gets. As part of The Go-Ahead Group’s commitment to deliver the best customer experience, it was my job to bring a mix of people from different backgrounds into the organisation and create an inclusive environment to ensure that “mix” worked well together.
That’s why, in my last two years, before I stepped down from my role, I took a number of steps to incorporate veterans into our hiring strategy. After all, military personnel are highly trained and have a strong work ethic – why wouldn’t we look into that population for talent?
Finding the right partner
The starting point was figuring out where people from the Services could fulfil a real business need. Military recruitment experts, SaluteMyJob, helped us to identify roles that matched the skills of people in the Services. That meant they were able to put forward candidates with the right skills – many of whom might have been overlooked by our traditional recruitment practice.
As a former military wife and with a daughter serving in the Navy, I’ve seen first-hand the challenges Service personnel face when transitioning out of the military. Am I a Manager? Am I a Director? Who do I get my orders from? These are the types of questions that Service personnel often ask themselves and it can create a lack of confidence and self-worth. That’s why it’s important to find the right partner who can offer transition support to help Service personnel become competitive and job-ready.
Designing a recruitment process that works for you
The key to designing an effective employment programme is creating a recruitment process that works for you. For The Go-Ahead Group, we wanted to move towards a pipeline of good applicants coming through to us on a regular basis, rather than waiting for jobs to become available. With high volumes of recruitment in engineering and a big skills gap across the industry, it made sense for us to constantly interview good candidates. If they were talented, we would hire them because we knew the business would always need good engineers. That was the process that worked for us.
One example is Robert. He started with The Go-Ahead Group in January. A former Tank Maintenance Manager in the Army with 14 years exemplary experience, he is now working as a Service Engineer. Although Robert wasn’t a qualified engineer, we accepted that his military training, experience and expertise was sufficient evidence of aptitude and ability to pass a practical, technical course.
Putting down the welcome mat
Taking steps to support people from the Services to settle into the business is just as important as getting them there in the first place. Establishing an internal military network or setting up a buddying scheme are just two of the ways businesses can help new recruits adapt to the commercial world.
Business in the Community’s new toolkit ‘Capitalising on military talent: Everything you need to know about employing Armed Forces veterans’is a really useful place to start. It helps businesses to think about each stage of the employment process – how to make the proposition inspiring, how to create an accessible recruitment process and how to go about on-boarding. And it brings it to life with best practice examples from other businesses who have embraced military recruiting.
Of course, all of this takes time. And you can’t expect a huge tidal wave of applications to come through immediately. But with a little bit of investment, we were able to attract some brilliant people.
Ex-Service men and women are a truly valuable asset to any business that understands the value of workplace diversity. I’d encourage you to make them welcome in your business too.
This blog was originally published in HR Magazine.