How Military service prepares you for a career in logistics

Leaving the Forces can be tricky. The military life, for all that most of us moan(ed) about it, has a way of encompassing the individual and providing focus and structure. The good news is that many people that leave find a job quickly and have successful careers in the civilian world. The bad news is that far too many ex-servicemen and servicewomen are under-employed; their jobs do not make best use of all the knowledge, skills and experience they have gained while serving. The worse news is that many employers have a negative view of people that are leaving the forces and will not even give them an interview!

As RAF News reported on 18 October 2019[1], “UK veterans are facing a tougher time in the battle for jobs in Civvy Street than ever as one in five British business bosses admit they discriminate against those that have fought for Queen and Country”. The article reports the results of a YouGov survey commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust. it shows that many civilian managers have a negative view of what being in uniform does to a person. Sadly, the research showed that 25% of the organisations polled in the survey had never hired a veteran, with the figure for small businesses being 65%! In addition, research by Cranfield University revealed that women service leavers have a lower employment rate (69%) than men (81%). Some service leavers don’t even mention their military careers on their CVs!

What about the Armed Forces Covenant then? I’ll leave that question hanging!

In my experience the logistics sector is different. It recognizes that time in the military develops many of the competences that the sector needs. If we think about the covid-19 pandemic, we didn’t run out of food, the Nightingale Hospitals got built (by the military), we didn’t even run out of toilet paper. Despite staff shortages and a huge increase in demand for home deliveries, the logistics sector coped. It did what the military does when faced with a sudden change of circumstances: it re-identified its objectives, it planned, it communicated its plan, and then executed it. And, whereas many sectors are shedding workers, logistics is taking on more and more staff, for jobs at all levels from warehouse floor to director’s office.

If we look at what logistics companies and training organisations say about the competences they seek to develop in people, I think the similarities with the competences that the military develops are obvious. Of course, organisations don’t list the same competences, so let’s compare what some of them say they want.

Company/Organisation GlobalTranz Rasmussen College BDC (Canada)
Competences required Forward thinking

Strong numerical and analytical skills

Extensive industry knowledge

Team player

Keen attention to detail

Sound decision making

Adaptability

Accountability

Quick follow-through

Good interpersonal skills

Ability to see the big picture

Adaptability

Calm under pressure

Effective problem-solving skills

Honesty

Continually seeking improvement

Proficient in project management

Able to manage and release stress

Maths skills and strong analytical and statistical capabilities

Ability to understand and use data

Understanding of technology

Soft skills to negotiate and build relationships

Attention to detail to understand the business and the environment

Now, I left the Army a (very) long time ago, but I recognize nearly all of these qualities as being something that the military requires and developed. Ok, I didn’t develop ‘extensive industry knowledge’ of the logistics world (I was in the infantry) but I think had pretty good knowledge of the military.

Goodwill Solutions Community Interest Company is a multi-award-winning company providing a range of warehouse services. Based in Northampton, the company provides specialist logistics services to blue chip retailers and manufacturers. In February 2020 Graham Tomkins, Co-Founder and CEO of Goodwill, asked Liam Fassam and me to join the company as non-executive directors to review and expand the way the company provided training services to people interested in a career in the logistics sector. Liam is an expert in logistics. He has run large-scale warehousing and transport operations in the UK and Ireland. He served in the British Army in the Royal Corps of Logistics. I retired from the University of Northampton in 2018 where I had been responsible for research and commercial activities. I have a lot of experience in setting up and running training operations, gained both at the University and with Tesco. I served in the British Army in infantry and training roles from 1976 – 1986.

Liam and I spent several weeks talking with managers in logistics businesses who repeatedly told us about the skills and labour shortage in the sector. The need to provide development programmes that would introduce people to the logistics sector, and give them the industry knowledge they needed to have great careers was obvious.

The Supply Chain Open Education Academy, launched in August 2020, is designed to help veterans and people considering leaving the Armed Forces to explore careers in logistics and, crucially, develop the knowledge and skills needed to succeed. The Academy provides online courses and work placements to all members of the military family; in different subjects and at different levels. The Academy’s courses are accredited, and it is registered with ELCAS so learning credits can be used to help pay for learning.

A military career should be the stepping stone to a great job in the civilian world. Too many British bosses don’t understand what serving Queen and Country gives a woman or a man. The logistic sector is different, and it needs YOU!

July 21, 2020

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