The experience and skillset of Senior Non-Commissioned Officers (SNCOs) are often misunderstood and under-valued in the civilian labour market, according to a new report published by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT). The report finds that SNCOs’ unique skills, combined with their length of time in service, may put them at a disadvantage when they leave the Armed Forces and have to compete with civilians for jobs.
The report, conducted by the Institute for Employment Research at Warwick University in partnership with QinetiQ and RFEA, the Forces Employment Charity, found that SNCOs often join the military at a very young age – 16 or 17 – and can struggle to find employment when they leave service.
The majority of SNCO veterans who took part in the research said they found it overwhelming to have to deal with the practicalities of civilian life at the same time as trying to find employment. 23% found their lack of interview experience to be very challenging, while negative attitudes from potential employers were also found to be a barrier.
While SNCOs often spend the majority of their working lives in the Armed Forces, many can expect to work in the civilian labour market for at least 15 years after leaving. Having progressed to a senior leadership position while serving, SNCOs can offer a range of transferable and valuable skills to civilian employers. Leadership (86%), management (83%), organisational skills (91%), team working (87%) and decision making (86%) were reported to be the top skills gained by SNCOs through being in the Armed Forces.
The report outlines recommendations for SNCOs to support their own transition as well as calling for more support from Government, business, and Armed Forces charities to ensure SNCOs’ skills are better understood and utilised by civilian employers. The report’s recommendations include:
- The Ministry of Defence (MOD) should ensure that SNCOs are provided with time to complete resettlement courses and should also consider a ‘transition’ role for SNCOs two years before leaving.
- The MOD should work with employers to help them recognise SNCO-specific qualifications, skills and experience and how these can benefit their organisation and sector.
- Employers should offer a range of opportunities, such as workplace shadowing, mentoring and work placements to support SNCOs during the pre-and post-transition phases.
Professor Clare Lyonette (IER) commented: “SNCOs have reached a very senior level, commanding a high level of respect, built up over many years in the Armed Forces. They bring with them a wealth of skills and experiences when they leave but this is often under-appreciated and misunderstood by potential employers and colleagues in the civilian world.
"As a result, many SNCOs shift from job to job, at least in the early stages after leaving, and others have long-term difficulties in finding their way. Although SNCOs overall have high levels of employment after leaving, and some do extremely well, what is hidden from the overall figures is that many are not using their skills and experience and have poor job satisfaction.
"We were able to identify that certain groups may be more in need of support than others. A loss of identity and status appear to be a particular issue for all SNCOs when transitioning out of the Services. However, those in more senior roles within the Services are more likely to suffer from a lack of status upon leaving and may need additional support in the resettlement phase. Those with poorer qualifications are much less likely to be in full-time employment than those who are educated to degree level, which highlights the need for upskilling while still in the Forces. Female SNCOs reported more difficulties than male SNCOs in moving into civilian employment, including poorer self-confidence, lack of interview skills, an inability to sell themselves well to employers and poorer mental health.
"We make a series of recommendations, not only for Government, employers and military charities, but also for the SNCOs themselves. In so doing, we provide a timeline for when various supports should be put in place, moving from the pre-transition phase (when SNCOs should be starting to think about life after the Services) through to the longer-term post-transition stage. We hope that these recommendations can generate real change to ensure a positive transition for all SNCOs into civilian life.”
Ray Lock, Chief Executive at FiMT, added: “Most employers have never experienced life within the Armed Forces and the role of the Senior Non-Commissioned Officer can appear a mystery. We commissioned this research as part of our Employment Programme because there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that SNCOs have worse employment outcomes than other groups. The combination of employer misperception, and employee misunderstanding and loss of identity, makes for a cocktail of disadvantage.
“As we face the recessionary consequences of Covid-19, the fear is that those who already suffer disadvantage will bear the brunt of economic hardship. Our call to action is simple, and two-pointed. Firstly, individual SNCOs should better plan for their transition and should not be put off by false expectation. This change is cultural and needs top-down leadership. Secondly, we must find a way for employers and society to better understand the benefits SNCOs can bring.
“Fixing this will need unparalleled collaboration between Government, employment representative bodies and employers themselves. We intend to strengthen this work and make these changes happen.”
- The full report can be found at www.fim-trust.org/reports
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