A study commissioned by Forces in Mind Trust has found that more could be done to help Armed Forces leavers pursue self-employment when they return to civilian life.
The study, which sought to understand what more could be done to support the Armed Forces Community in pursuing self-employment and so aid their chances of a successful, sustainable transition, was undertaken by the Institute for Employment Research at the University of Warwick in conjunction with QinetiQ and X-Forces Enterprise.
Researchers used published literature and statistics together with interviews with veterans, partners and reservists to draw their conclusions and make recommendations for future policies.
The study found that for members of the Armed Forces Community and stakeholders, successful self-employment means:
- Financial sustainability (an ability to pay bills, enjoy a nice lifestyle and not worry about money) as opposed to wealth
- Better work-life balance – achieving a better work-life balance than in the Armed Forces and spending more time with family
- Job satisfaction and enjoyment (particularly important for partners)
- Pride in work and business, representing a strong worth ethic and a willingness to work hard to generate good results.
Respondents also felt that key skills learnt in the Armed Forces, such as communication skills, organisational skills, team working and decision-making skills, were important competences in self-employment.
Camaraderie amongst veterans and a willingness to support each other in the civilian labour market was also considered to have a positive impact on success for those in self-employment, along with good networks (most likely to be used by higher-ranking veterans). Also, whilst leaving the military with a full or partial pension or a lump sum does not determine success, respondents appreciated that this could be a useful ‘buffer’ while businesses get up and running or enable veterans to take a financial risk. The ability to plan ahead and do the research to identify a gap in the market were factors considered important for success by all groups.
Barriers to success
However, some barriers to success were identified. While some (such as a lack of forward-planning and research, difficulty in financing a business, and health and disability issues) are common to anyone attempting self-employment, others were unique to, or more common to veterans.
There can be difficulty transitioning from the Services to the competitive commercial world that may characterise their civilian life, and in translating their skills to a civilian market.
The study also found that veterans are less likely to be qualified to degree level than civilians, although the gap in qualifications between non-veterans and veterans was smaller for the self-employed. While self-employed (and employed) veterans are much less likely to be claiming benefits than civilians, they also have smaller businesses.
Veterans also felt that their shared set of values and standards around work, including professionalism, reliability, camaraderie and trust, discipline and a commitment and determination to complete work to the best of their abilities, was not often replicated in the civilian labour market, and that they were unused to working in an environment where the emphasis is on making money, meaning they need to quickly change their mind-set.
Many partners of veterans were likely to have chosen self-employment as the only viable option due to regular relocations or the remote nature of the areas in which their partners are stationed. Some respondents also suggested veterans themselves may be more likely to choose self-employment as a reaction to the institutional nature of their time in the Forces.
How can veterans be supported in self-employment?
The study produced some robust recommendations for improving veterans’ chances of finding and sustaining successful self-employment.
- Serving personnel need practical advice and training while still in the decision-making stages of leaving the Services, allowing them to make better-informed decisions and access support to ensure a positive and successful outcome
- The military should better prepare personnel for civilian life before they exit the Services. Support with translating skills and competencies to a civilian context, as well as offering practical courses to develop commercial, finance and marketing skills, are all identified as beneficial
- Whilst some support already exists, offered via the CTP, military charities and other institutions, communication and marketing of these services appears varied and inconsistent, so improvement is required in this area
- Partners and reservists should also be supported in choosing and maintaining self-employment
- Longer-term support is also needed as many veterans move into self-employment years after leaving
The study included more detailed, specific recommendations for all stakeholders including the MoD and military charities, focusing on support given in the exploration and planning, education and training, transition, and development and stabilisation phases of a move from military service to self-employment.
Commenting on the study, Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said it showed that self-employment “can be a viable and rewarding career path for Armed Forces service leavers, as well a sensible choice for the partners and spouses of serving personnel.”
However, he said it also highlights how much more support is needed from Government and charities, and that access to finance is a major barrier to successful self-employment for the Armed Forces community.
“FSB’s research has found that 21 per cent of the self-employed have struggled to access a mortgage with almost 50 per cent experiencing poor access to credit.”
“FSB has called on the Government and the FCA to bring together industry leaders to work on addressing the current barriers that prevent certain communities, like service-leavers, from gaining good access to finance.”
Are you a veteran considering, beginning or sustaining a self-employed career? What challenges have presented themselves, and how do you consider you could have been better supported?