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A Cruel and Reckless Fate: Army 2020

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Army 2020?...

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has announced details of how the Army will be restructured as it loses a fifth of its personnel over the next few years. Seventeen units are to be axed as part of sweeping reforms that will reduce its overall strength by 20,000. Apparently, the cuts will require at least two more tranches of redundancies next year and as well in 2014, meaning that soldiers will hear about their own future at the same time as British forces are pulling out of Afghanistan. Anyone who has ever worked for a company that is going through a restructure will know the impact not only on morale but also on staff efficacy. How our forces are supposed to remain positive and effective units with this Sword of Damocles over their heads is beyond me... Graciously, Hammond acknowledges that morale in the army was "fragile". "People never like change... change brings uncertainty," he said as he palmed the issue off to the Ministry of Defence to explain to its staff.

I am intrigued, therefore, to understand the real thinking behind this and how such a plan can be justified. Sure, I have no doubt it looks good on the bean counter's spreadsheet and all the back-patting must be causing a degree of bruising under those grey Whitehall wool suits, but the reality from a purely common sense point of view, must be that this is insanity. A reduced defence force dependant on part-timers and foreign partners....

'Uncertainty', the name of the game...

If we are to believe the media, we are in the midst of a double-dip recession, the construction industry is under-performing as a result of tight lending and the rest of mainland Europe seems on the brink of collapse. 'Uncertainty' is the name of the game right now... Despite a slight fall in the unemployment rate in the last quarter, we still sit at 2.61 million people unemployed, just short of the 2.98 million we saw ten years ago in 1992. Despite unemployment numbers being a somewhat inexact science due to lag and timing, the reality is we have a huge number of people, a large proportion of whom are 16-24 year olds, claiming the dole and other welfare benefits. They are disillusioned, disenfranchised and feel for the most part helpless. There is no question that the gap between the 'haves' and 'have not's' is greater than it's ever been in Britain and this was confirmed in the findings of The Riots, Communities and Victims Panel, set up after the riots of 2011.

Reckless...

It is against this background that I challenge the sanity of a decision that will over the next few years put so many valuable people into harms way. I use the word 'harm', because it is appropriate. It is perhaps not known or appreciated, that when a member of the armed services is discharged or made redundant, they are in effect homeless and jobless on the same day... either is a challenge at the best of times... but to be made both by an institution that has cared for you by providing every need and instruction, seems reckless and cruel given the service and loyalty our military personnel deliver.

No room at the inn...

In speaking with many of the agencies tasked with resettlement of military personnel, they all share the same issue, i.e. the real challenge of trying to place ex-service members into full-time employment. There is no question that our service colleagues are highly trained and have a myriad of different skills, but sadly, for the most part, employers and HR professionals do not always have the time to try and find out how those skills may be of benefit to their businesses; how they could deploy these skills and, with a small investment in re-training, acquire an asset that can add hugely to their bottom line.

Franchise that...

I have been involved in advising, working with and speaking to in excess of 50 major franchise companies over the years, I have discovered that some of the most successful franchisees are ex-service people and in endeavouring to discover a logical reason 'why', it becomes blatantly obvious. For a franchisee to make a franchise work successfully and very profitably, they should follow the franchisor's plan exactly to the letter. So, who are the best-trained people in the UK to do what they are told to do?

The challenge...

I have also been fortunate over the years in working with and speaking to, dare I say, hundreds of thousands of people. In the process, I have met thousands of ex-military. It has consistently become apparent that they are valued for the significant contributions they have made to the organisations that they work with, and that often, they are some of the very best employees -- and I mean at all levels of employment.

There is a challenge, though, and it is one that must be addressed in advance of discharge and then continued during the initial transition period as a civilian. Military personnel exist in a tight structured environment. Many of the simple things we think about such as shopping for food, managing our finances, maintaining a roof over our heads, preparing a CV, applying for jobs, dealing with non-military personnel, things one might describe as 'Life Skills' are not part of their thought process; they haven't needed to be. It is critical then, that apart from retooling people's skills, they are supported in the more fundamental and mundane aspects of civilian life. By default, being in the services requires you to be flexible and react to changing situations, something that may be easy in theatre... but their skills must now be redirected and adapted for 'Civvy Street'. If they are not appropriately supported and re-trained, we run the risk of merely adding to the general complex cycle of unemployment. Many young people dream from an early age of joining the Forces and to have that dream ended because of 'cuts', is not something that can easily be contemplated or accepted. By the same token, individuals that have provided years of loyal service both in peace and in war will have an extremely hard time accepting these upcoming redundancies and the slashing of historical traditions.

Why?...

The point is simple enough: Are we just cutting the military because it looks good on paper? Has Whitehall considered that unless properly supported, we will only be adding to the layers of unemployed, and so any savings are merely redirected to a different budget line? How much support are UK employers willing to take to ensure that we can find jobs for these people? How is the government encouraging and incentivising employers to take on ex-military staff? However you carve it up, we will ultimately be responsible for paying the bill. So with that in mind, let us be proactive in finding opportunities to hire ex-forces personnel and not allow them to become a nameless statistic on a graph.

Be creative...

In an ideal world, there would be 0% unemployment. Many corporations talk about people being their greatest asset. As a nation, we should be thinking the same thing and taking collective responsibility for the less fortunate and unemployed. Our military are the unwilling victims of some spreadsheet madness. They need protecting. Too much of our employment mentality is directed towards skills and past experience; so may I say to UK employers, BIG, BIG mistake. Think outside the box when you are recruiting, don't just tick boxes because it's the easiest thing to do, go for 'attitude' because the skills are easy to train and you will always get a positive experience on the back of good training.

The opportunity...

There is a reason why our British Armed Services attract the admiration of the rest of the world. Our core military values are courage, discipline, respect, integrity, loyalty and selflessness. Why would we not want to harness those traits to help grow our businesses?
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