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Veterans and FM: how they can help each other

17 June 2024

Shockingly, veterans often experience discrimination in the workplace – but the facilities management industry is helping to change this, as Amanda Vlietstra discovers.

For anyone leaving the armed services, the transition to civilian life involves big changes. Every year, 15,000 people leave the armed forces – and as stated on the ‘Help for Heroes’ website, “overnight, not only do you lose your job, but a support network that is like family.” For veterans who’ve been serving in the armed forces for many years, the transition can be even more jarring; the civilian world can feel “confusing, scary and not very welcoming,” according to Help for Heroes. The charity, which supports veterans and their families, found that 82% of veterans they surveyed said they felt lonely.

Even for those veterans who take the adjustment in their stride, the search for meaningful work can still prove challenging. Not only does the civilian world of work operate very differently from how things are done in the military, but the work itself can seem to lack purpose compared to the job of serving ones’ country. Veterans can also experience prejudice; research published by the Forces in Mind Trust (which helps veterans and their families transition to civilian life) found that over one-third of veterans aged 50 or older experienced discrimination in the form of ageism, anti-military bias or both while looking for work. As a result, one in five ex-service personnel end up working in casual employment because they’re unable to find long-term, sustainable positions. 

This is where the facilities management industry is increasingly stepping in. A growing number of companies within the sector, including Mitie, SBFM, Lorne Stewart Facilities Services, Corps Consult, Churchill and others, are actively looking to recruit veterans. Not only does this help address the talent crisis within the industry, but the skills that many veterans possess are a natural fit for the FM industry. 

Skills match

As Mark Sutcliffe, CEO at Lorne Stewart Facilities Service and a committee member of the IWFM Veterans in FM Network, points out: “Military veterans possess a unique blend of skills and experiences that make them exceptionally well-suited for careers in the FM industry. The core attributes developed through military service—leadership, discipline, problem-solving, and adaptability—are precisely what FM demands.”

Michelle Connolly, who runs FM talent agency 300 North, also sits on the committee for the IWFM Veterans in FM Network. “Veterans often have extensive experience in maintenance, logistics, project management, and leadership, which are directly applicable to FM roles,” she states. “Their strong work ethic and commitment to excellence ensure that facilities are maintained to high standards, contributing to operational efficiency and safety. Additionally, veterans are adept at teamwork and communication, facilitating effective collaboration across departments. By leveraging their unique skill sets, military veterans can significantly enhance the efficiency, reliability, and innovation within the facilities management sector.”

The aim of the IWFM Veterans in FM Network, which was launched in November 2023, is to raise the awareness to service leavers of the FM market and ensure veterans can consider what an amazing career FM offers. “We aim to give visibility of careers in FM to service leavers and veterans from all of the market including service providers and in-house teams,” Sutcliffe explains. “We want to provide pathways into FM, ‘soft landings’ and support as veterans embark on their FM career. The committee also seeks to ensure that service leavers have access to the right training courses prior to leaving the military.”

At the Network launch, the committee delivered a call to action, appealing to companies in the FM sector to guarantee an interview for every veteran, reservist, and forces family member who meets the essential job criteria – or even if they don’t quite meet the criteria, as Sutcliffe states: “We are asking any employers within the FM industry to consider that veterans may not meet a job description 100% and to give flexibility to understand that the veteran holds key skills that are the cornerstone of what facilities management delivers. Veterans also may need support in adjusting to civilian life if they are undertaking their first role after leaving the military, and this can be achieved through internal support networks or via the wider Veterans in FM network.”

Extra support

Sutcliffe, Connolly and many others within the sector recognise that veterans may need additional support to help them adjust to both civilian life and a career within FM. Although the majority transition successfully, some may be struggling with physical or mental health problems, or even PTSD. However, as Mike Mike Bluestone, Executive Director, Corps Consult, says: “Generally, veterans come with a solutions mindset. They know how to overcome adversity, deal with a crisis and get things done. They develop an inbuilt resilience. These are all key attributes for a career in FM.”

Bluestone says there are a number of factors that would assist both FM employers and veterans in the recruitment and onboarding process. “For veterans, being able to easily identify companies that welcome them would be a good start,” he says. “Sadly, there still some companies out there who may not appreciate or understand the diverse skills sets that veterans possess, but plenty of others do.”

“Key learning points include gaining familiarity with commercial and financial disciplines as not all personnel would have had exposure to this in the military,” he continues. “Support with budgeting and financial planning would be helpful in many cases. If someone has been in the military for a long time, they may be used to doing things in a certain way and may need to learn to be more flexible in the private sector. Some roles aren’t always what they seem from a job specification. Ultimately, becoming familiar with the culture of the private sector can take time—not just the difference in jobs and tasks but in the way people are tasked.”

Shock to the system

Another factor, he points out, is that military personnel are not used to people being non-compliant. “This can be a shock to the system in the private sector and some guidance around how to deal with this behaviour is always useful,” he says.

However, as he says, the rewards of recruiting veterans can far outweigh any challenges. “Without doubt, veterans bring a sense of loyalty and commitment,” he says. “This is instilled in the military. Generally, veterans have a positive attitude to the workplace. They can keep a cool head under pressure and respond well in emergencies. They know things won’t always go to plan so excel at contingency planning too.”

“Veterans don’t give up,” he adds. “They have a desire to get the job done and done well. They love to succeed. In some cases where people struggle because a certain project didn’t go the right way, they may feel disheartened, because getting the job done properly is second nature to veterans. There is no doubt that the strong organisational skills and sense of leadership that veterans have garnered will see them through their transition from the military into civilian roles.”

“FM is a very structured discipline which aligns with the way the military works,” he concludes.

Image: Shutterstock

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