How employing ex-military personnel can benefit SME's

Lou Whiting ended her 16 year military career as Officer Commanding the Royal Artillery Training Development Team. She then established Waves, a Learning and Organisational Development Company, providing consultancy to the military and commercial sectors, in the UK and Middle East. SaluteMyJob chats to the director and owner about the benefits of employing from the military community and she offers a valuable insight to other SME’s looking to hire from the veteran talent pool.

Setting up a business post-transition 

Lou founded Waves in 2012 after she left the Army. Her last job was in a training and development role during an Urgent Operational Requirement period with Afghanistan. “During that time, I came across many contractors whose approach was quite aggressive and the work lacked the required quality, so I thought this could be done better.” Lou also set up another business during that time. She said she believes the processes she learnt in the military enabled her to start up two businesses without any formal business, educational training behind her.

Waves and the military community

Waves employ 24 employees who are all part of the military family - ex-military personnel,  active Reservists and military spouses. To recruit from the community, Waves rely on word of mouth, as well as attending career fairs and offering work placements so people can come and get a feel for their values, culture and to see whether Waves is somewhere that suits their skill set. And when a new employee joins, Waves provides a mentoring scheme - where they are appointed a mentor who stays with them until they feel comfortable they understand their new role.

In terms of soft skills, there’s trust - and I mean on a deeper level of trust, not just predictable trust and commitment, especially if you provide them with an environment to grow and be nurtured in.
— Lou Whiting

Transferable military soft skills

Lou said there are a number of soft and hard skills ex-military personnel bring to the Waves team. She explained further: “In terms of soft skills, there’s trust - and I mean on a deeper level of trust, not just predictable trust and commitment, especially if you provide them with an environment to grow and be nurtured in. And looking at hard skills, for my type of work which is training and development and leadership delivery - it would be their systems approach to training, academic qualifications and years of experience. I make sure I employ all those people who have had those qualifications and experience.”

Ex-military success story

Lou said there are many people success stories, but one in-particular is an ex-military person who has shone since leaving the military and joining Waves. “I worked with Iain in the Gunners in my training job. He was a Warrant Officer Class 1 and had a logistics career so he was a Master Driver.  He was my first employee and he has really grown and shone in an academic sense. We had a stand at ITEC in London (annual forum where representatives from across the military, industry and academia connect and share knowledge) where Iain presented and I saw another one of my Sergeant Major’s, who worked for a competitor and he said, ‘what’s Ian doing on that sort of project, he is just a master driver?’. Very much that stereotypical thinking about how people were in the military, compared to what they are now. We really want people to continue learning and to go out their comfort zone and Iain, who has gone into the academic research world, really thrives on it and you would have never have thought that when he was in the military. The military never really saw the true value and potential in Iain that he is now showing.”

The clear benefit is they are used to adapting, used to working 24-7, they are a much more agile and willing worker. In terms of ex-military themselves - it is the technical skills I need and the experience.
— Lou Whiting

SME challenges

As an SME, Lou said she does not find it a challenge to recruit ex-military personnel compared to larger organisations. “For example, three of my ex-Services employees were quite sought after in the Defence consultancy world in terms of training and all three of these people were interviewed by large competitors - but they chose to come to us. We are smaller, more volatile, cannot offer the same level of pay and maybe more risk coming to us. However, our ethos aligned with there’s. So we really don’t have a problem recruiting - and retaining our employees.”  

Benefits of employing ex-military personnel

There are a huge number of benefits to employing people from the military community said Lou. “The clear benefit is they are used to adapting, used to working 24-7, they are a much more agile and willing worker. In terms of ex-military themselves - it is the technical skills I need and the experience. In terms of spouses - it’s because they are quite like-minded and they sit in with the culture of the business. Outside the technical skills, it’s the attitude and the behaviours of ex-military. They are really hard to find elsewhere and that’s in terms of, they never go sick, you have to force them to take their holidays, they roll their sleeves up.”

Lou’s Top Tips For SME’s Looking to Employ Veterans:

  1. Offer work experience: Offering work experience to the ex-military community will allow them to see whether they would fit in with your company’s culture and ethos - and also gives you as an employer a chance to be exposed to the ex-military community.

  2. Attend local job fairs: We don’t go to a lot of job fairs as they are expensive but we do go to a local job fair just to keep up our presence.    

  3. Sign the Armed Forces Covenant: Showing commitment that way will help attract ex-military people to your company. Waves has been awarded Gold by the Employer Recognition Scheme. This is the highest badge of honour for organisations which have signed the Armed Forces Covenant.

  4. Partner with a local SME: You don’t to need to necessarily recruit someone with military experience to look at a CV or interview ex-military candidates. For example, if there was an SME in our area and they had no military employee, they could work with us, we could support them in recruiting, interviewing and assist with understanding CV’s.

  5. Link up Regimental Associations: We tend to advertise our roles on our website, through word of mouth and Regimental Associations.


Want to find out more about employing veterans? Download the full Capitalising on military talent: Everything you need to know about employing veterans here.