Continuous Transition

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

For some, considering time in the Armed Forces as only one element of an overall career that will comprise a number of different jobs, possibly in a number of different sectors, will reset expectations of its significance in a progressively longer working life. “We should think about the Armed Forces as a job, 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. However, given the commitment those in the Armed Forces are expected to make to their profession, how best to ensure they are able to move on successfully is particularly challenging. There is a need to include retraining and reskilling as a necessary component of working life.

It is clear that for the vast majority, as they make their way through their careers, 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 major strings attached, “I left 20 years ago, but I’m still on notice for call up.” However, many people join the Armed Forces when they are young and impressionable, and they therefore form their workplace ethics based on this experience. Much is expected from them and this personal investment and lifestyle experience sets the Armed Forces occupation apart from most other professions. Given that it provides all the necessary personal and pastoral needs an individual requires, learning to adapt to a new life can be particularly difficult, as it combines the shock of coming to terms with a new profession and new domestic and personal circumstances.

This scale of change is difficult for anyone to adjust to, and will take time. However, most transition training is currently “crammed into your last years of service.” Some argue that this is one of the reasons why it is so difficult for people to adapt to civilian life. One possibility is for the Armed Forces to acknowledge this right from the beginning. “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 degree of scepticism. “There is a gap between rhetoric and reality. The MOD says that 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.”

Some sectors of the Armed Forces are better able to manage ongoing transition challenges and 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.”

There is a considerable financial incentive to ensure that as many people as possible transition successfully. “There is an eternal tension between the broader interests of government and the MOD around transition. Government wants highly successful veterans and wants to reinvest their skills into the economy; the MOD is more focussed on delivering operational capability and effectiveness.” This tension goes some way to explaining why finding support during transition can sometimes be difficult.

Whenever you start, there is widespread recognition that “the Forces need to do more to prepare its members for transition well in advance of those people leaving.” Many think 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.”

In addition to training their own personnel, it was often pointed out to us that the Armed Forces should do more to ensure that business better understands the skills that transitioners can offer the corporate world, particularly given the government investment that is made in their training. 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 across the entirety of their corporate life. Whether the individual reflects on it, or has absorbed 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.” One way of demonstrating this could be through the development of military sabbaticals; “this may help perceptions outside the military, but also assist in bringing commercial skills in.”

Example Implication: A career in the Armed Forces becomes more widely recognised as the starting point for a multi-role career, providing hard to learn leadership and soft skills.




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.