IT WASN’T until I was a few months into my first civilian job that I realised just how crucial the lessons learned during my time on the frontline would be for my future success.
I’m not alone. Veterans and employers all too often overlook the invaluable skills honed during service, which is a real loss to organisations across Australia.
What better training ground for leaders than the high-pressure environment of a war zone?
For over a decade I served as an electronic warfare operator in the army, intercepting enemy communications and providing advice and warning to those on the front line — knowing one small mistake could cost the lives of my fellow soldiers who had become my family.
My service included deployments to East Timor and Afghanistan, where I was regularly called upon in volatile situations to brief the highest ranking field commanders.
The dirt and grit of these battlefields may seem a world apart from my job as an inclusion and diversity consultant at Westpac. However, it was the skills I learnt in my 11 years in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) that armed me with the ability to identify and achieve both my colleagues’ and the business’ goals.
Nearly every veteran I know has outstanding leadership qualities; is a team player; is execution focused — and possesses a whole other range of incredibly valuable skills.
So why do the 5,500 defence members leaving the army each year face unemployment and underemployment rates significantly higher than the national average? What a waste of true leadership potential.
In the army you develop what is called “commander’s intent” — being able to clearly articulate what success looks like. It is what the battlefield should look like at the end of the mission. It is what in business would be considered a mission statement. It works because it describes what needs to be achieved, without prescribing how.
Today, Australian businesses, led by the Chair of the Veteran’s Industry Advisory Committee, George Frazis, have the opportunity at the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Employment Forum, to set our Commander’s Intent — defining what success looks like for veterans transitioning into the civilian workforce and the Australian organisations that employ them.
This weekend also sees the start of the Invictus Games Sydney 2018, so the time is right for a discussion about the value veterans bring to society. I want us to pause and think about the value lost if these leaders aren’t integrated into meaningful employment. I stress meaningful employment, because too often our veterans are pigeonholed into comparable roles like security, risk and operations. These are valid career paths, but we also need to examine their potential as leaders with purpose.
Businesses need to think less about the technical skills veterans bring — less about how many years’ worth of industry experience a candidate has — and think more about the values, ability to learn and broader work ethic of those they want to join their team.
Recent data shows the invaluable skills veterans possess are exactly those that Australian employers want from their employees. LinkedIn data, conducted in collaboration with Westpac, identified the top twelve skills Australian leaders look for in employees, such as project management and leadership, with the findings demonstrating that as compared to the average Australian on LinkedIn, veterans over index on all twelve.
My advice to veterans who have recently left the ADF — don’t be intimidated by change. They need to understand the skills and capabilities learned in the ADF are valuable and transferable, and not only communicate these skills, but bring them to life on resumes and in interviews.
No one is saying the transition from the battlefield to boardroom is easy — but with greater recognition of the leadership these incredible, brave, smart, driven men and women can bring — the more likely their skills will be acknowledged and embraced by corporate Australia.