People who leave the armed forces can find it difficult to settle into a new civilian job. Happily, the transition is being made easier with the help of Vets@Virgin, a group of military veterans, now working for Virgin Money.
Richard Garman recently joined Virgin Money as a project manager in mortgages and savings. It’s going well, he says, but it’s very different from his last job in the Royal Marines.
“For a start, the Marines is all men!” he says. “I’m not being thrashed around a gym for hours before breakfast, and I’m unlikely to die as a result of a bad decision.”
Life has certainly changed for Richard since he le‑ the Royal Marines in April this year. The veteran served in Somalia, the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan, and ended his military career as the officer in charge of physical training at the Royal Marines’ principal training centre in Lympstone. Now he’s swapped the training ground for a desk and a career at Virgin Money, and is happily settled in Newcastle with his wife, Alexandra, and young son George.
“I had been recommended for a promotion to Major, but I knew I’d want to commit a good five years to it,” Richard says. “By that point, George would be seven and I was worried about what I would miss out on. I look back at my time in the Marines with very fond memories and a tinge of sadness, but I wanted to be with my family.”
For someone who has spent all of their adult life in the armed forces, leaving that structured environment can be difficult. Some service leavers have never had to find accommodation, pay bills or cook for themselves, let alone look for a job and market themselves to a potential employer. The armed forces acknowledge this experience gap and have “a well-oiled machine” as Richard puts it, to help service leavers.
Project management was an area Richard could transfer a lot of his military skills to, so he took a qualification through the Ministry of Defence’s resettlement agency, the Career Transition Partnership. But he still needed to find a job. So he also started attending networking events, and this is where his journey with Virgin Money began because some of the events were hosted by Vets@Virgin.
Vets@Virgin started with Dean Beaumont, who served as an Army communications specialist in the First Gulf War and Northern Ireland before leaving 20 years ago.
“I had ten great years but, coming out, I felt isolated. I didn’t know how to relate to people, and I had a sense of loss,” Dean says. “I thought maybe that was unique to me.”
Then, a year or so ago, he met a colleague who had just started at Virgin Money. “Six months earlier he’d been serving in Afghanistan,” explains Dean. “He was saying to me, ‘I don’t understand the language people speak. I don’t understand the culture. I’m not sure people get my humour. What do you wear to work?’ He’s wearing a suit and most people here are much more casually dressed. It dawned on me that even after 20 years, this is still going on.”
Dean started seeking out more service leavers in Virgin Money and his little group grew to 12. They started off meeting once a month socially, but decided that wasn’t enough. They wanted to reach out to the wider service community. So, in conjunction with charities such as the Officers’ Association, the Royal British Legion and forces employment charity the RFEA – and with support from Virgin Money HR – they started to host events to help people get ready for civilian work.
For example, service leavers were applying for jobs but because their CVs were full of military jargon, hiring managers couldn’t recognise the strong skills sets on offer. So, these events now include CV workshops, interview practice days and networking opportunities.
Vets@Virgin now has a budget from HR (£3,000 this year) and champions from all over the business. “When we ask colleagues to give up some time or to lend us a room, our requests fall on fertile ground,” says Dean. “People often explain that their dad was in the forces, or their son is in the Paras. A lot of people have a connection with the forces and they are very happy to help.”