Preparing for an early transition

Although for some it no doubt goes without saying, for others it may be important to remember that no two transition journeys post armed forces are the same. Each transition varies depending on individual experiences, attitudes, and the wider social context such instances occur within during any time served with the armed forces. Despite this, there are some recurring transition issues that can be common to all during this difficult time too. Education, skills and mental well-being are all aspects for consideration during the transitional period and all, of course, take planning and preparation to overcome. So, the earlier the transition process is considered the better.

Research conducted by the ‘Forces In Mind Trust’ has shown that those who ‘live for today’ and do not think about their future in any great capacity struggle much more with transition than those who have thought about what comes after life in the forces while they are still serving. Transition truly does start from day one and is continuous, whether that be to the next rank or out of the armed forces altogether. So despite there being clear processes in place, it is still hugely beneficial for individuals to take it upon themselves to prepare for what comes next. This can be difficult for those who are highly trained in skills to complete their day-to-day tasks within the armed forces, however such skills may not necessarily be applicable in the civilian world.

This is one of the key reasons that transition must be a consideration during a career within the forces, not simply immediately before one leaves. Learning new skills that can be applied to civilian life to assist with job prospects is extremely time consuming for a start. Recognised levels of education such as key GCSE qualifications like Maths and English are minimal requirements for finding work in many cases, and are crucial to securing a job role. It is therefore of the utmost importance that core qualifications are gained during service, not in the immediate period after leaving, in order to minimise any period of unemployment that may follow.

Failure to address transition as early as possible can also cause complications when serving personnel leave the army prematurely. In some instances medical discharge is necessary, for example, and if this occurs with no consideration of the transition process having taken place previously it can cause huge difficulties. In such an instance the individual has to be signed off before transition is considered, leaving little to no preparation time at all. This can of course have huge implications both mentally and practically in their transition to civilian life, but if there is a consistent consideration of transition during time serving, a much better idea of what to expect and how to make the transition a successful one is more likely whatever the circumstances.

Overall, any force’s transition programme’s primary focus is to integrate personnel into civilian life through employment, therefore. Employment offers a purpose, personal satisfaction, social interaction and a wage to live on. However, what is not sometimes considered is the suitability of work that is taken on by ex-forces personnel who move back into civilian life. Due to failure to expand on gained qualifications that are only recognised in the forces, many go on to complete jobs that are insufficiently challenging in comparison to the responsibilities they had when serving.

This can then have a knock on effect to other areas of transition. There is qualitative research conducted by the ‘Forces Select Foundation’ which has proven that many who leave the forces and successfully find employment struggle with the lifestyle they must take on to be able to afford to survive. In the army everything is provided, and they are paid annual salaries on top of this. Often jobs they secure are not as well paid, and out of that money they also have to pay for accommodation, food and transport meaning they have less disposable income than they are accustomed to. Furthermore, these jobs also often have limited opportunity for progression.

Ultimately, those elements of the transition process that can cause difficulties are the ones that require forward thinking. Those who think ahead will have spent time on gaining the qualifications to function in a prosperous job role, and having that early thought into the transition process allows for managing expectations. It is clear that thinking about it this difficult process early on whilst still serving is the best resolution to problems that can arise.

At SMS we understand that armed forces personnel being prepared is the key to a successful transition. We deliver a CERT HE skills for the workplace with professional ILM level 4 qualification in leadership and management, which is specifically designed with a focus on post service employment and progression thereafter.