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Former service personnel have a host of skills and experience that make them the ideal choice for many civilian workplaces. Qualities such as leadership skills and strategic thinking, a calm demeanour under pressure, and a positive, can-do attitude are just a few reasons why they are considered an asset in business.  

There are lots of different ways that companies across the UK can become a ‘forces-friendly’ employer. For many, the first step is to sign the Armed Forces Covenant, which is a pledge to treat the military fairly. Others may choose to take their support even further and apply for an award under the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS)

Since June 2013, thousands of companies have publicly pledged their support to the armed forces community by signing the covenant. Reed signed the covenant back in March 2022, signalling its commitment to ensuring those who serve, or who have served in the armed forces, and their families, are treated fairly. Reed has recently been awarded gold in the Armed Forces Employer Recognition Scheme. 

So, what is the Armed Forces Covenant and Employer Recognition Scheme? And how can your business benefit from it? 

Maria Kaya, National Account Manager at Defence Relationship Management – Ministry of Defence, explains more about supporting the armed forces in our interview:

Q: What is the Armed Forces Covenant?

A: The Armed Forces Covenant was stepped up over 10 years ago now, when David Cameron was then Prime Minister, and it is a pledge. It's a pledge that companies, organisations can sign, and what they're doing in signing the covenant, is they are showing their support to the armed forces community.

Basically, any company can sign it, obviously any size, whether it be two people or an enormous PLC (public limited company) , and it's also signed by public organisations, CICs (community interest companies) and charities, also.

Q: How does the Armed Forces Covenant and the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme (ERS) work together?

A: The Employer Recognition Scheme comes off the back of the Armed Forces Covenant.

So, the Employer Recognition Scheme – we call it the Defence Employer Recognition Scheme – is really about rewarding those organisations who are very ‘forces family-friendly’. What we mean by that is they have policies in place in their companies that support the armed forces community – nothing's preferential here. This is just about fairness, because there are certain things, support that they may need.

So, unless you've signed the AFC, the Armed Forces Covenant, you cannot apply for the Employer Recognition Scheme. The eligibility for the Employer Recognition Scheme is to first sign the Armed Forces Covenant.

Once you have signed that, you can first obviously work your way through – we have bronze, silver and gold at the very top. Now, bronze is more or less a pledge from companies saying, ‘We understand the armed forces community, we want to support them if possible’, and there's a few things that we ask you to do, and a bronze [award] can then be issued.

Silver and gold are a little bit different, obviously, so they take a lot more work.

Q: How can businesses sign up for the ERS scheme?

A: It depends on your business really. It depends on your location and your size of business.

First of all, you need to sign the Armed Forces Covenant. Now the Armed Forces Covenant can be signed online. We have a website where the Armed Forces Covenant is visible there and you can actually download that. Companies can sign it and then scan that and send it back in.

At that point, information is sent out from our central office regarding the Employer Recognition Scheme, and if companies wish to take part in that, will be given the details.

Now, if you're a bigger company – if you are say, based in one of the regions, you may wish to sign the Armed Forces Covenant in a ceremony. Now, I'm a National Account Manager, so I only look after large national corporations or strategic accounts.

So in that, basically each signing that we do is in an event form, with a senior military signatory as a co-signatory and normally one of the directors. It's either d- or c-suite level of the company signing on behalf of the company. We do that in an event to show the support there on both sides and then afterwards I would work with an organisation, like I have done with Reed, to support them through the Employer Recognition Scheme, explaining the pathway and how it is all done.

Then it's up to an organisation, it’s completely voluntary, whether they wish to work their way through the Employer Recognition Scheme.

Q: What are the benefits of joining the scheme?

A: Well, I think it really depends on the organisation.

But one of the things that you're showing is that any employee that you have, any current employee that you have and employees that may come to you – so prospective employees – you're demonstrating to them that you understand them. That you understand their community, that you're trying to understand their community, and that you want to treat them fairly.

So, if you have veterans in your workforce, you have reservists in your workforce, then you're demonstrating as a company that you understand them, you're trying to understand them, and you respect them.

So that's really important for the morale of these people and it's very important sometimes that they work in places where that they feel that people understand who they are, and understand their specific things that they have [through serving in the armed forces].

Now, one of those is spouses and partners. If you’re the spouse or partner of somebody who's serving in the UK armed forces, then you may need to move. So, an organisation that is able to accommodate, for example, remote working or transfer of their job to another location – obviously this is often only done by large companies – then these people, their loyalty obviously will come because they appreciate what the company is doing for them and what they’re trying to do for them.

If you show the Armed Forces Covenant and you show your level of support, then these are places they will want to come and work because they know that you understand them much better and that you appreciate them. So this is a way of attracting fantastic staff members.

Service leavers – so that's those within two years of leaving the armed forces – last year we had around 16,500 leave the armed forces and many of those will be looking for work and going into workplaces and they have fantastic skills.

This is a way to attract them into your workforce. If they see the Armed Forces Covenant logo, they see that you've worked through the Employer Recognition Scheme, then they know that you have policies in place that are supported for them.

Q: What skills and qualities can veterans and reservists offer organisations?

A: Well, the thing about the services, we have every single role within the tri-services that exists in the workplace as well. So, every job is also within the services. Every single civilian role is also within the forces.

But they're [leavers] coming out with some of your obvious ones, obviously leadership. Many of those come out with fantastic leadership skills, but an underestimated one is followership. They're not only able to lead, but they’re also able to follow, listen properly and follow instruction as well.

They tend to be very calm under pressure. They're very good at taking orders, they're very good at giving them, and they're very good at the small things: time keeping, teamwork, communication and hard work, because these things are absolutely essential in the forces.

And the other thing is many of them are very highly skilled, so while they're serving, and reservists as well, are actually constantly learning. They can come up with really high professional skills and qualifications, etcetera, which are completely transferable into workplaces as well. It’s completely visible at every spectrum of employment throughout organisations, right from the top to your more manual work.

But they are available in all, so their skills are numerous and they're fantastic to have in your workplace.

Q: Once a business has received their ERS award, how can they promote their forces- friendly status?

A: Well, we have a whole bunch of collateral which they're then entitled to, once they’ve signed the Armed Forces Covenant, [including] to use the covenant logo. We have it in various different ways and that's all sent out to organisations so they can use that and obviously that can be used on social media. We don't limit that.

We give you a brand guide and tell you how you can use that, but a great place to put everything on there is through LinkedIn. If they're trying to attract ex-forces personnel into their workforce etcetera, then LinkedIn is great because the services love LinkedIn. So that's a great place to put it on.

It can also go on leaflets, booklets, email signatures at the bottom – many of them put it there. We have organisations that have dedicated webpages, then a link to recruitment with support there for ex-forces.

We have them [the logo] on banners, they're taken to conferences and the logo is there on banners, tablecloths, etcetera. And we even have accounts that have wrapped vehicles with the Armed Forces Covenant logo. We've had it done on a train by a train company. It's been done by buses and certainly other major organisations, one of them – a very well-known roadside assistance company – wrapped vehicles as well with the logo.

So, wherever you want to put it, as long as it's within the brand guidelines, we're absolutely happy for organisations to shout about their connection with the Armed Forces Covenant and the Employer Recognition Scheme.

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