Self-employment and entrepreneurship are not options often considered by veterans seeking to start a new career outside the ADF. It is a gamble that comes at a time when many are already struggling to integrate into an unfamiliar workplace culture, whilst also possibly dealing with the physical and mental repercussions of full-time service and overseas deployments.
A number of veterans that have successfully started their own businesses were recently hosted by NSW Governor Gen David Hurley at Government House, in his capacity as chair of the Advisory Panel of The Prince’s Trust Australia’s Lead Your Own Business program (PLYOB). The Trust is a non-profit organisation that represents the charitable interests of the Prince of Wales.
The PLYOB is a 12 to 18 month initiative, designed in partnership with RMIT University in Melbourne, which assists roughly 20-25 transitioning defence personnel to start or scale their own small business each year.
Participants in the program graduate with a Certificate IV in New Small Business and receive 12 months of tailored mentoring support.
A number of alumni spoke to ADM at the reception about some of the challenges they experienced in leaving the ADF.
Some initially found they had few professional contacts outside the military who could help them navigate the early stages of starting a business. Completing the PLYOB program helped them overcome this challenge by meeting others in a similar situation and networking with experienced professionals.
They also discussed the difficulty of understanding how their skills fit into the civilian work environment.
Much of the discussion surrounding post-service employment focuses on communicating those skills to employers. PM Malcolm Turnbull, for example, did exactly that in his speech at the Veterans Employment Awards ceremony last month.
"Now our veterans have impressive résumés. They’re motivated, resilient and proven problem solvers,” he said. “They can cope with unexpected and unpredictable situations. They’ve operated around the world. They can work cooperatively with people from different countries, different cultures, different languages and different backgrounds. They are great leaders, trained to deliver their best and get the best out of others."
There is comparatively less discussion, however, about how to communicate those skills to veterans themselves. After years of service alongside others with similar skills, in a demanding environment that expects nothing less, many may be unaware that they even possess those skills, let alone how they can use them to create opportunities outside the ADF.
Tim Walmsley, CEO and founder of BenchOn, spoke to ADM about specific knowledge he gained in the military that helped him set up a business.
“I built my business based on the military appreciation process,” Walmsley said. “I just changed enemy analysis to competitor analysis, and I changed environment analysis to market analysis. That is 100 per cent transferable.”
Transitioning, he added, often involves thinking outside the box in terms of career opportunities.
“I know a lot of infantry people that got out and got amazing jobs in business development, consulting and management, running their own businesses.”
He also emphasised the importance of a well-developed exit strategy.
“Plan for everything. My exit strategy was five years before I got out,” he said. “I know they say that at the transition seminars, and even when I was in, I thought ‘Five years, anything can happen in five years.’
“But if you take into account getting qualifications, and then putting them into good use to get experience before you jump out, then it’s not long.”
The success of PLYOB alumni and others like Walmsley in entrepreneurship demonstrate that transitioning veterans have options, including self-employment, that many might not initially consider.
Keep an eye out in upcoming editions of Defence Week for examples of veteran-led start-ups striking out into the world of Defence industry and beyond.