For some returning military personnel, the transition to civilian life can be a tough one, but education, training and pathways to employment can help. Here’s how businesses can help bridge this gap and tap into the unique skill set of this group.
The business community has begun breaking down barriers and challenging biases around gender, ethnicity, sexuality and more, and creating new pathways for success for these groups. Now, says Ian McAdam, Chief Commercial Officer at Salesforce Australia, the same must be done for veterans transitioning from the Australian Defence Force into civilian life.
“The problem is that there is no clear path for veterans showing where their experience could naturally lead once they leave the military,” Ian says.
“A lot of people who have served in the military bring a powerful set of skills. They are highly trained and highly valuable but, quite frankly, they’re underappreciated.”
To help challenge this thinking and encourage other businesses to do so as well, Salesforce launched Vetforce in the US in 2014 as one of its Equality Groups. The Australian chapter was founded in 2016, which Ian now helms as the group’s Executive Sponsor. Its purpose: help support the transition from military to civilian life.
Dan Parker, Salesforce Senior ISV Partner Manager APAC, is also the Vetforce Lead in Australia and New Zealand, and COO and Ambassador for Wandering Warriors, which supports special forces veterans.
A veteran himself, with a brother who is currently deployed in Iraq, another brother who transitioned out of the military, and a father who is still serving, Dan has a deeply personal understanding of the challenges faced by those that move on from military life.
“The biggest issue is the change of mindset,” Dan says.
“You’re in a culture and environment that is very mature in terms of the way it supports and coaches individuals throughout their military career.”
This works well for those who are in service, but creates a culture shock for those who transition back into civilian life.
“When you move into the civilian arena, it’s just you. Nobody else is there to prod you along in the right direction. Nobody is there to tell you that you’re on a training course next week, or that you’re being sent on a particular mission,” Dan says.
“You have to change your mindset to look within and discover your own purpose and identity. That can be difficult. A lot of vets have always been selfless — they chose to serve and it’s difficult to find their identity once they’re no longer serving.”
The Vetforce equality group, Dan says, is likely the smallest of all Salesforce Equality Groups. But the group is tightly knit and extremely passionate about its work.
Actually, most members are involved in two groups. Vetforce focuses internally, which focuses on the needs of veterans employed within Salesforce and partner businesses. And then Salesforce Military looks outwards, with the aim of upskilling the veteran community in high-demand technology skills.
The main focus of Vetforce is around recognition and commemoration of service, including the organisation of commemorative events for ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day. The group also invites guest speakers and organises panel discussions. Past speakers have included an Air Commodore, a war widow who is a Commissioner for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a Gulf War veteran, a military author, people representing veteran support organisations and more.
Salesforce Military’s focus is a vital one. In the US, the group provides paid, hands-on tech experience for veterans and military spouses at Salesforce and its partner businesses for 12 weeks, with the potential for the veteran and/or their spouse to be hired full time at the end of the program. So far, 70 per cent of participants have been employed full-time.
Here in Australia, Salesforce is working with the veterans support group Wandering Warriors to provide free Salesforce Trailhead training courses and resources to veterans and their families.
The support group works with educational institutions, universities and businesses to provide scholarships and pathways for ex-military personnel to pursue education — whether that’s online learning, vocational training or an MBA.
Wandering Warriors CEO Quentin Masson, who himself is ex-special forces, says it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of education opportunities for military personnel who are making the transition into civilian life. He also thinks it’s one area where the business community can really step up to help – and reap some benefits as well.
“You can get a relationship with somebody who may end up working for you. The benefit of a small amount of investment is exponential in outcome — you’re making a real, tangible difference to someone’s life,” he says.
The Vetforce equality group carries out one other important task within Salesforce, one that helps veterans recognise their own, unique value. The members make themselves available to the HR team to ensure CVs from veterans are not overlooked.
“We give a lot of time to the HR team to help them decipher various CVs,” Dan says.
“A lot of military lingo is used, so we look at their experience and figure out whether a person would be a good fit for any role we have available.”
To any businesses that receive CVs from ex-military personnel, Dan encourages an open mind.
“Educate yourself and the organisation around the soft skills a vet likely has,” he says.
“They’ve probably been in a number of complex, mission-critical environments. They may be very good with different kinds of cultures or languages. They’re probably very good at synthesising information and making a decision in the moment and on the run – that’s probably second nature for them. Obviously, communication will be a big strength, too.”
“From a hard skills standpoint, they might have been in communications or might have been an engineer, a medic, or in cyber security. These are all skills that can be put to good use. Finally, of course, leadership is trained into every soldier from day one.”
Channelling these skills into businesses could also help plug some holes in Australia’s current skills shortage, Quentin says, particularly in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) fields.
“Veterans are one of the largest human capital bases in Australia right now with that type of skill set,” he says.
If more businesses can see the enormous value in veterans, Ian adds, then Vetforce will have done its job.
“My ambition as Vetforce Executive Sponsor is to put initiatives in place that will see visible paths created for these valuable individuals,” he says.
“That way, they can move on to the next stage of their life. This is good for their own wellbeing, and for their families and loved ones. It’s also excellent for the businesses that are lucky enough to bring these veterans on board.”
Discover more about Salesforce’s core values and how we live them through Equality Groups like Vetforce here.