More than 3,000 employers have now signed the Armed Forces Covenant, pledging their support to the Armed Forces Community - though a promising number, findings from a recent report have shown there is still a significant lack of awareness and understanding of the Covenant and its role in society.
‘Benefit not Burden,’ a report commissioned by the Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT), found less than a quarter (24%) of the organisations surveyed had heard of the Armed Forces Covenant and only 8% had signed it.
Little has changed in three years
This distinct lack of awareness is a significant barrier to organisations signing and enacting the Armed Forces Covenant. The FIMT report shows little has moved on in the way of understanding, since a paper was published by RUSI three years ago on the effects and purposes of the Armed Forces Covenant. That paper found that 61% of businesses felt they could not navigate the multiple public and private organisations that comprise the UK’s defence extended enterprise and less than a third of businesses (29%) thought that the Armed Forces Covenant was a success.
The Armed Forces Covenant has significant potential
According to the new FIMT report, the overriding challenge is to do more to ‘raise awareness of the needs and skills of the Armed Forces Community, the existence of the Covenant, the types of action that can be taken under the Covenant and the potential benefits of doing so’.
Most observers (and SMJ) agree that, the Armed Forces Covenant has significant potential if it - and its benefits - are better advertised and the delivery was more coherent. If there was a clearer narrative for both the public, employers and the Armed Forces community, there wouldn't be such confusion and difficulty in navigating what is a complex landscape.
Helping signatories fulfil their pledges
When an organisation signs the Armed Forces Covenant, there isn’t a clear and specific action that they are required to make, meaning pledges can, for example, include anything from employment support - to much more general policies.
The report calls for ‘a more compelling narrative’ between the pledges made and the steps and means to fulfil them successfully. Most significantly, employers must either hold themselves to account or be held accountable for the pledges they make. It is very clear that if the 3,000 employers that have pledged their support were acting on their intent, then the barriers and confusion facing members of the Armed Forces Community would be removed.
Learning from the US veteran initiatives
Most of the recommendations in this report are to be welcomed. However, what’s missing is a recommendation to identify and share examples of good practice - such as from the US. Initiatives such as the Veteran Jobs Mission, a coalition of some 200 employers, and the US Chambers of Commerce ‘Hiring our Heroes’ programme have both shown that employers hold the real keys to success.
The lesson from US programmes is that as the activity from signatories increases, so does the need for employers to collaborate and coordinate activity, led by some form of ‘convening partner’. In the UK, this could well be the group of employers that have been recognised by the MOD as doing the most to support the Armed Forces, represented collectively by the ‘Gold Alumni Association’. This would help bring clarity and coherence to a currently very disparate set of employer activities.
A real appetite for positive change
What’s really positive about the Armed Forces Covenant is there is clearly a real appetite for positive change. What’s needed now to really see it reach its full potential is a more coordinated approach that’s led by those who can make a real difference - employers.
Andrew Jackson, a retired Army brigadier, is managing director of SaluteMyJob.