Case study: Banking on ex-military talent

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Barclays is making the transition from military to ‘civvy street’ employment as smooth as possible for UK veterans

The organisation

Barclays is an investment banking and financial services company founded in the UK more than 300 years ago. As of April 2018 Barclays Bank UK (the UK division) and Barclays Bank (made up of the group service company and Barclays International) operate independently but alongside one another as part of Barclays plc. The group has operations in 40-plus countries and employs around 120,000 people.

The problem

Changing company, job role, or career is a challenging time for anyone. But for someone who has spent the entirety of their adult life in the military and has left – often because of injury – these challenges are amplified.

“I thought I was a career soldier. I was in infantry for 10 years, did three tours of Iraq, and picked up an injury that led to me being medically discharged,” explains Kevin Gartside, Barclays’ Armed Forces Transition, Employment and Resettlement (AFTER) programme manager.

“I found myself in a position where I had no idea what I wanted to do and – apart from the army aptitude test – had never had a job interview in my life.”

Gartside’s story is far from unique. Research from the British Legion shows that working-age veterans are almost twice as likely to be unemployed as their counterparts in the UK general population.

As Gartside explains, there are several factors (both work-related and personal) holding veterans back when it comes to reintegrating into civilian employment.

“It’s such a change in lifestyle as well as a change in job,” he says. “You’re finding your feet in life again because you’re moving out of what is a very protective culture. So it’s not just about integrating into traditional work life but also back into ‘normal’ life.”

Skills transfer is another issue. “Military people aren’t very good at translating their military skillset into the civilian world and civilian workplaces also have a poor understanding of the skills that someone in the military can bring to an organisation,” Gartside adds.

“Biases also need to be dispelled. Hiring managers will often ask really inappropriate questions like ‘have you killed anyone?’”

The stereotypes employers have of veterans, coupled with the limited awareness veterans have for the types of roles they could move into, means valuable transferable skills are going untapped by businesses. According to the Barclays Military Insight Tool veterans outperform civilians in a number of areas; scoring in the top 30% for social influence, creativity, rational decision-making, emotional resilience and dealing with ambiguity.

Clearly overlooking veterans as prospective employees isn’t just a CSR matter. It’s also causing employers to miss out on a highly talented demographic of workers at a time they can scarce afford to do so.

The method

Barclays’ AFTER programme was set up in 2010. Launched by Stuart Tootal, head of Barclays’ AFTER programme and a former army colonel, it started as an informal side job alongside his security role at the bank.

“It began by providing employability grants to help wounded, injured, sick and vulnerable service veterans develop long-term careers,” explains Gartside. This quickly evolved into Barclays staff running employability training and CV workshops. But it wasn’t perfect from the get-go.

“Barclays staff were running a workshop and some veterans told them it wasn’t good. So to make the programme actually suit their needs and be effective we got them to help us create it,” says Gartside.

Giving a standard CV template to someone who may never have written one before and who doesn’t know how to translate their military experiences to ‘civvy street’ won’t work. Instead the plan shifted to running two-day workshops allowing veterans time to develop the skills to write a CV, conduct interview practice and, perhaps more importantly, rebuild confidence.

Further to the CV workshops, the programme expanded to include insight days to give veterans firsthand experience of working in banking, two-week placements in Barclays, and then the launch of a 12-week Barclays Military Internship programme in 2015. Gartside explains that this internship is open to people in the last six months of service where they can usually “manage their time away from the chain of command but are still being paid by the military”.

As part of the internship they are given a line manager, a military mentor or ‘buddy’, access to all Barclays systems, and a role in the bank. Interns are given access to Barclays’ internal jobs boards and classed as internal candidates to then apply for permanent roles. The support doesn’t end after onboarding, with ongoing access to a military support network and Barclays mentors assigned.

Not all mentors are ex-servicemen and women, Gartside adds, but “veterans supporting veterans” is a winning formula in many cases. “Just having someone to have a coffee with [who can] tell you they’ve been through the same thing and succeeded helps.”

It hasn’t all been plain sailing, however. Shifting the mindset of existing employees brings its own challenges.

Gartside explains that some parts of the business were more open to the idea than others. Functions such as risk and security seemed more obvious homes for veterans’ skills than CSR or investment banking for example.

“It was a slow build,” he says. “It is as much of an education and training piece for line managers and hiring managers as for veterans.” As such the programme also provides line managers with briefing packs containing tips on what to expect; from military acronyms to awareness around where additional training and support may be required.

“It’s about reminding them that some veterans may be more nervous on their first day in a bank than they would be in Iraq,” Gartside adds.

And it’s not just about recruiting into Barclays itself; 2015 saw the launch of Veterans Employment Transition Support (VETS), aimed at helping other organisations connect with ex-service personnel, as well as providing veterans access to mentors from other businesses and the chance to apply for targeted job opportunities. All in all it’s about making the transition as smooth as possible.

The result

Having joined Barclays in 2012 on a placement in what was then the programme in its informal infancy, and then being accepted into a full-time role at the bank – before joining the AFTER programme team in 2014 – Gartside’s own story is testament to its success.

To date Barclays has helped more than 5,000 service personnel in the transition process and employed more than 500 ex-military staff internally in the bank. The employment piece is a point of particular pride, with a 90% conversion rate of interns

to full-time employees. This ranges across all levels of seniority, from junior analysts to senior directors, and across all parts of the business.

“There’s no limit – if everyone hits the mark and wants to stay at Barclays then we find them a role,” says Gartside.

He also estimates that around 90% of the veterans Barclays has hired through the programme would never have considered a career in banking if they hadn’t been exposed to the opportunities and range of roles there.

While the programme is constantly growing and evolving, with plans to roll out the model in Barclays US markets, the key to its success for Gartside has been a human touch. “It’s not done on a scale of 20,000 people at a time as we’d lose the fact it is very human,” he says.

Nevertheless, perhaps one of the biggest markers of success is the high demand from the business for the kinds of diverse skills ex-military personnel can bring. As Gartside explains: “We used to be asking if teams wanted an intern, but now it’s the other way around.”

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