Indian Armed Forces have approximately 70K personnel (Officer and Other Ranks) from the Army, Navy and Air Force who relinquish their uniform every year, most of them between 35yrs-45yrs of age, with a lot of life and responsibility in front of them. This is encouraged by the Forces to ensure the pride of the nation stays young and agile.
Why should anyone go for a career full of hostility and risk that will eventually handover insufficient pension and retire you at the prime of your age? And all this for a society that does not even care to give you a fair chance to be a part of civilian life? Here we are talking about the well-trained, disciplined, experienced and motivated team of human resources, who were handpicked after being tested for their mental and physical abilities. These are battle-hardened leaders; who are forced to think on their feet, take decisions and give directions in situations where the consequence of error is loss of life.
Super-specialized, experienced, driven talent
Indian Army has 159 qualified trades. They come with tremendous technical prowess, ranging from computer hackers to civil engineers, supply chain & logistics to satellite communication. From vocational training and trade apprenticeship to leadership and management training, the Army gives skills and knowledge to fulfill every job. A good part of the $52B military budget is deployed towards training and skill building that includes all aspects of technical, cognitive and leadership development. Innovation has been the only way the Armed forces have survived and successfully delivered across generations. They have handled technology decades ahead of it becoming mainstream. Indian Armed Forces is the oldest talent factory and is an academy of skill and innovation. Portable radio communication, low light and digital photography, duct tape, GPS, navigation and personal tracking are some of the original military inventions that rule our world today.
Resettling is unsettling
Ministry of defence and the three services have put in a lot of effort towards resettlement albeit with limited success. Director General Resettlement is the primary organization in charge of training and re-employment; there are placement organizations for the three services that operate in a similar model as any hiring or recruitment firm. There is significant budget that is spent in imparting courses with educational institutes towards creating job readiness for a career in the corporate world. Zila Sanik Board serves as the grass-root touch point for JCO’s/ OR’s and help them in undertaking primary and secondary employment registrations. Despite this institutional concern and effort, we have these bright skilled personnel across Officers and Other Ranks struggle to find a place of dignity in our society. It is a bit like our education system that is churning qualified people but not employable.
It is deplorable to spot a soldier who has gone through thousands of hours of structured and experiential training, who has guarded our borders risking his life every day, as a doors man at a five star. Most officers end up joining the corporate world in security, administration, facilities that do not even use 10% of what they are capable of, hence leaving them frustrated and unfulfilled for the rest of their lives. No wonder we see the trend reverse where the family tradition of joining the Armed Forces is dying and discouraged by the serving generation.
This issue is going to further accentuate as the MoD implements Ajay Vikram Singh Committee’s (AVSC) recommendation on reversing the ratio of main to support segments of the Army’s officer cadre. The present ratio of permanent to short service commission of 4 : 1 is being recommended to be changed to 1: 1.1. This means that the number of officers coming out of the service after 10 and 14 years will increase dramatically. The two approved decisions to absorb these officers in the Central Armed Forces Police Force and Industrial Deputation is far from being implemented and is an impossible reality.
A different picture in different geographies
Countries with large military establishments have done a great deal of work in integration and engagement in the corporate workforce and bolstered the business case argument for investing in the hiring of veterans. World over Veterans get special attention when it comes to employment, financial aid, wellness, in fact, they go a step further and extend the same to their families. Most global companies have a focused veteran’s program, it is an important segment in their diversity definition and they run special targets and programs to hire them. Veterans have proven to have a terrific success rate across management, support and business roles. 15 of the Fortune 500 CEOs got their start in the military and this outcome is a result of not more than a decade of work in bringing veterans into the mainstream corporate workforce.
Inclusive practices can impact business outcomes
Indian Armed Forces is globally recognized as one of the most capable and have regularly excelled in every way including resurrecting nationhood during the UN peacekeeping missions; yet we have left them out. This omission is not owing to lack of intent, but due to lack of knowledge of the Armed Forces, the establishment, their experience, skill and application in the corporate world. How many of us know that the Canteen Stores Department run by the Army recorded annual sales of INR 20,000 crores, which makes them the largest and most diversified retail company in the country; Army Supply Corps is the country’s largest logistics company, Army Corps of Engineers has laid roads, bridges, tracks, helipads and rescue infrastructure when the best of the professional agencies failed. I easily see them as great fits in manufacturing, project management, logistics, HR, Purchase functions and solve for the talent gap in infrastructure, real estate, utilities, industrial, metals, consumer goods etc.
The challenges in veteran employment are very broad and need to be addressed before we can proceed. It must start from the basic of job skill translation and mapping, upskilling to cultural integration. Transition is a complex process, not a single event which means a comprehensive solution set is required. If not managed well, it can be stressful and frustrating both for the organization and service members. The pressing need is to educate both employers and service members about each other. It can help corporate India manage the wage inflation and the challenge of finding qualified talent in tier 3 and 4 cities. It is not just the world of business but also the veterans who need to take the ownership, be more realistic in their expectations of the corporate world, in terms of level, role, compensation and career path. They need to own their skilling agenda and use the privilege of study leave judiciously to upgrade their knowledge of the area of work that will continue to hold them in good stead when they eventually step out of the Army. Their cultural and value alignment with the business world is important; the fact that they come from an extreme command and control, hugely hierarchical setup, while the corporate world is quite the opposite. Both the sides must learn not to speak past each other when discussing values that are common in name but hold different meanings in the military and business world. E.g. Commitment, Service are common across both but have different connotations in the two environments.
The best prepared for VUCA times
Hiring, integrating and engaging veterans in the workforce can add substantial value to an organization. It is paradoxical that we trust them with nuclear weapons and national sovereignty, but not business decisions. If we believe the country is secure in the hands of our soldiers, it should be relatively easy to believe that our organization will be secure in their hands, or at least ask what are we doing to secure the soldiers.
The notion of VUCA was introduced by the US Army War College to describe the more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, multilateral world which resulted from the end of the Cold War and it was only after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that notion and acronym really took hold. VUCA has subsequently been adopted by business leaders to describe the chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly changing business environment that has become the “new normal.” I would argue that in times when we are looking for resilience, ability to lead large diverse team of millennials with purpose and are expecting our leaders to have the unlearning agility with no reaction time to counter disruption, our veterans present a strong choice of leadership at all levels. All they need is a platform, a challenge, an opportunity and some initial steering.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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