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U.K. veterans have trouble finding jobs

Stephen Beard Apr 8, 2010

U.K. veterans have trouble finding jobs

Stephen Beard Apr 8, 2010


Bob Moon: A new and specialized kind of employment agency has just opened its doors in Britain. “Force Select” has been set up to find work for military veterans, and the agency can expect a steady stream of clients.

More than 20,000 men and women leave the U.K.’s armed forces every year. And they quickly learn that active service in Iraq or Afghanistan is one thing, but it can really get tough once they’re out.

As Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports, they don’t always get a hero’s welcome in the jobs market back home.

STEPHEN BEARD: At a barracks near London, a final parade for soldiers who have served their time. They may be hoping to march off smartly into civilian jobs. They may be disappointed.

Mehmet Khavaz, a former sergeant in the British Army, speaks from bitter experience.

MEHMET KHAVAZ: I’ve lost count of the amount of jobs I’ve applied for. We’re struggling. I’m not the only one. Lots of friends of mine are in this position. We just can’t find work. We’re struggling.

Mehmet returned from service in Afghanistan six months ago. He was a quartermaster, distributing food, fuel and other supplies. He thought there might be some demand for his skills in civilian life. But with no work on the horizon, he’s getting anxious.

KHAVAZ: I’m rapidly approaching 40. The civilian job market can be quite ruthless. If I don’t start working soon, people might start thinking: He’s a bit too old to come into our organization.

ARMY AD: A job in the army is more than your average job.

Unemployed veterans feel especially aggrieved. The recruitment ads led them to believe their service would make them fit for anything.

ARMY AD: And give you the kind of qualifications and know-how they’ll be looking for back in civilian life.

Hugh Andree is a former infantry officer. He’s just set up the new employment agency for veterans. He reckons there could be 50,000 in Britain looking for jobs.

Andree blames employers who are ignorant of military matters and personnel.

HUGH ANDREE: There’s a real lack of understanding of the skills and experience they have and how to retrain and redeploy those skills and that experience to benefit companies.

And, he says, there’s another factor militating against a smooth transition to civilian life…

ARMY COMMAND: Rifle exercises by numbers. Recover arms… One!One!

The routine and regimentation, and the sense of security inside the forces. It can make it harder for some veterans to cope with the freewheeling vagaries of the outside world.

Anthony Harrison served as a lieutenant in both the British and Australian armies.

ANTHONY HARRISON: In the military no matter what happens, you get your pay. And no matters what happens, you’ve got housing. No matter what happens the mess is there, there’s going to be a meal.

Not in civilian life. Since he left the forces 13 years ago, Harrison has struggled. He launched a business that went bust. His marriage failed. He lost his home and wound up living rough on the streets of London. His military experience made that emotionally even more difficult to bear.

HARRISON: The low point was the realization I had nowhere to go. When you have nowhere to go, it’s not like if you’re in the army on operation, a soldier support network, he’s got his buddy in a trench over there. But when you’re on the street and there’s no support network, not having anywhere to go. That for me was my worst moment.

But some people involved in veteran welfare say the problems have been exaggerated. Harrison is now living in a hostel run by a charity called Veterans Aid.

The chief executive is Hugh Milroy.

HUGH MILROY: The reality is that the vast bulk of veterans make the transition from the military into civilian life perfectly well.

Milroy says only a tiny number of vets wind up on the streets. And 96 percent find work within six months of leaving the forces. But the unemployed vets say those figures are misleading. They include people who — out of desperation — have taken temporary, menial work, like potato picking. Six months after he left the army Mehmet Khavaz is still jobless and disenchanted.

KHAVAZ: I do feel betrayed, I do feel let down, but it’s nothing more than what I expected. It’s a strong culture in this country that soldiers are not wanted.

The Ministry of Defence says all service leavers are offered resettlement and careers advice. And some free retraining. The ministry said the veterans “are the best of British. They have the skills and the attitude to succeed in any civilian job.”

In London, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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