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Mar 9, 2016

Reservists & Service Leavers in Demand by Small Businesses

New research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has found smaller businesses are increasingly positive about employing reservists and service leavers.

The number of firms reluctant to take on a reservist has fallen dramatically over the past three years, with many more business owners saying they can see the benefits of hiring those with service experience. The change demonstrates the progress which has been made in improving the package of support available to small businesses hiring reservists.

This FSB study is the first ever to look at the employment of service leavers, in addition to reservists, from a small business perspective. While the attitude of employers to hiring those with service experience is widely positive, the research also revealed a clear preference among smaller firms for hiring service leavers over reservists with two in three (65%) employers saying they would be keen to hire service leavers. The number of small firms saying they would actively consider hiring a reservist has increased too, up from 45% in 2013 to 49% in 2016.

This is a welcome sign and shows that more and more small firms recognise the benefits of taking on a reservist. However, more can be done and FSB is calling on Ministers to commit to further support for smaller employers.

Mike Cherry, Policy Director for the FSB, said, “Employers always want to find the most talented and highly skilled people for the jobs they create. Reservists and service leavers often bring unique skills and qualities to the job, especially around leadership and management, and businesses clearly recognise that." Mike added, "The Government has made good progress towards encouraging employers to take on reservists. The financial support now on offer to a small employer can help to cover the cost when a member of staff is deployed. But there are clearly still challenges to overcome. We would like to see more small businesses supporting our troops. They serve our country and the skills they come back with are diverse and often invaluable.”

Minister for Reserves, Julian Brazier MP, said, “I’d like to thank the growing number of small businesses making the effort to serve their country by supporting our Service personnel.  It is very encouraging to see more small employers finding the value of the unique skills and expertise that Reservists and Service Leavers can bring to their businesses.”

The Ministry of Defence should go further and look at new ways to encourage businesses to take on reservists and service leavers. Doing so will bolster local economies, support deserving and highly skilled individuals, and help to address the skills deficit faced by many industries.

The preference expressed for service leavers over reservists is understandable but a cause for concern. The key difference between the two is active service, with three in five businesses (60%) saying they would struggle to cope if a reservist they employed was called up for duty. Addressing these concerns will be central to further improving small business attitudes to hiring reserve personnel.

The FSB report suggests that if the right package of support were put in place, many more small businesses would employ reservists and service leavers. Two out of three (65%) small firms agree that the skills and knowledge reservists gain during their time in the armed forces are valuable to a business, while three in five (59%) said the same about service leavers. There was also wide recognition from well over half of small firms that service leavers (60%) and reservists (54%) bring unique experience and insight to businesses.

Small businesses would like to see a number of new measures to help them take on more reservists and service leavers. For reservists, clarity and certainty of when staff are to be mobilised was a top ask, followed by tax incentives to employ members of the armed forces and more certainty in training schedules.

When it comes to taking on service leavers, a specific place where service leavers can promote their availability for employment was popular, as was the concept of civilian equivalent accreditation of skills/qualifications earned during service.

Mike Cherry concluded: “Staff wanting to commit to a public service should be commended, but smaller businesses need help to ensure they can facilitate this with minimum impact on their business. The MoD should continue to engage with smaller firms to understand and address their concerns. We cannot afford to let reservists and service leavers’ talent and skills go to waste. “It’s not just about helping reservists and service leaders find employment with small firms, we also need to make sure we’re helping them become their own boss. The Government’s ‘Be the Boss’ business start-up scheme was so popular that it had to close to new entrants. Ministers should review this decision so that today’s service leavers get the help they need to set themselves up in business should they wish to do so.” 

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