Continuous Transition

With shorter careers and a recognition that transition is an ongoing process, not a single event, expectations and preparedness are managed from the start.

Consideration of the Armed Forces as one element of an overall career which is built on a number of different jobs, resets expectations of that job’s role and impact within a progressively longer working life. “We should think about the Armed Forces as a career, not a life.” With ten-year occupations increasingly the norm, including in the military, moving between roles and employers is more usual in today’s workplace. The need to retrain and reskill is expected as a necessary component of working life, particularly as many people are expected to work for longer.

It is clear that for the vast majority as they make their way through their professional life, they achieve “lots of mini transitions.” Joining, being part of, and leaving the Armed Forces is just part of the journey – even if it has some strings attached, “I left 20 years ago but am still on notice for call up.”

However, a common concern is that much transition training is currently “crammed into your last years of service.” Some argue that the transition journey should start from the first day of recruitment: “You should start thinking about leaving the day you join. It’s a mindset we haven’t had before, and will increasingly become a necessity.” Although perhaps true in an ideal world, others responded to this suggestion with a decree of scepticism. “There is a gap between rhetoric and reality: The MOD says preparation for leaving begins on the day you arrive, but in practice people say: ‘not a chance’.” More pragmatically, several see that “it’s about connecting the two worlds better, and making it clear that the military or Armed Forces can be seen as one career, not as your life.” Moreover, “helping personnel to consider life beyond the Forces throughout their service improves their ability to transition well on leaving.”

Clearly some sectors of the Armed Forces are better able to manage ongoing transition opportunities than others: “It’s sort of easy in some of the more technical areas”, such as flying, where “getting the airlines involved early is a sort of managed transition out.” However, others found the idea of a managed transition process unappealing. “If I’m the officer in charge of a troop, I might feel that I prepare them too well for transition and become concerned that they might leave.” Moreover, “one of the areas of tension is that you don’t want them to be vulnerable when they leave, but at the same time don’t want to speed up their departure – if you keep putting the idea of leaving in their head.”

Whenever you start, there is widespread recognition that “the Services need to do more to prepare its members for transition well in advance of those people leaving.” Many concur that the answer is “something to do with better education while they are in uniform.” Being prepared for the future may necessitate a different approach to training and skills development. “What would be good is if those coming to the end of a military career are equipped with the mental approach and skills designed for the world we live in today. We should think about creating a lifelong learning environment, rather than training people for a platform or operating system.”

Alongside professional skills, a common priority for many exiting the Armed Forces is the acquisition of life skills, especially those around basic finance. “They were not managing their money very well. They have everything done for them financially. It’s no wonder they come out and don’t know how to do things.” This is particularly important for those who may have had challenges before joining up. “If they join as perhaps a 17-year-old with few qualifications, and maybe with issues from their home environment, they can find a new home in the military. The trouble is, when they leave, inside themselves they might be that same 17-year-old, lacking in confidence and with the same issues that they arrived with – and maybe now a couple of other issues like physical or mental injury.” To support individuals such as these during service, “we should be able to look at the military in its entirety, in terms of service, in terms of family, flexibility, lifespan, thinking about a career, but also about their transition. We need to be preparing them for civilian life, and offer a direct link into the welfare state organisations so that they know where to go for support, if things do become difficult.”

One suggestion was that the Forces should do more to ensure business better understands the skills that veterans can offer the corporate world. We heard from one senior executive of a global organisation that “The Armed Forces are unequivocally a great source of future leaders. Even a squaddie who joins and completes basic training has more investment in them than most people will have perhaps in all of their corporate life. Whether the individual reflects on it, or has absorbs it – it elevates the individual. It is an innate understanding of what leadership and management means and can then reflect on what good and bad leadership looks like. And what is motivating, or not. This needs recognition”

An Implication: The Armed Forces promotes the transferrable skills gained during service to the corporate world. Coincidentally transition preparation starts earlier for all ranks, and better aligns with the core needs of future employers.




The qualities of military personnel are very strong and are likely to fit very well with the future – but they won’t be well understood by those who are receiving them.


There is an eternal tension between the broader interests of Government and the MOD with respect to a continuous transition. Government wants to have highly successful veterans and wants to reinvest those skills into the economy, society and to reduce the burden. The issue from the other side, the MOD, is that they are focused on delivering operational capability and effectiveness.