Over the years, there’s a widespread industry perception that veterans are cut out largely for security and administrative roles
Last week, in the aftermath of the violence triggered by the controversial Agnipath scheme, the exchange between Mahindra Group Chairman Anand Mahindra and Admiral Arun Prakash had the Twitterati in a complete flap. (https://bit.ly/3tZrY3R)
By all indications, Admiral Prakash was right in asking Mr Mahindra what his group had done all this while to support veterans. Except that a part of the blame must lie with the Admiral as well. I recently spoke to a veteran with two decades of experience in the Indian Navy who transitioned to a leadership role at an MNC. He said he was tempted to ask Admiral Prakash what he had done in his capacity as the Naval chief to improve job prospects—and provide a second career for armed forces personnel.
Unfortunately, the answer is pretty stark: Precious little. And that’s why if one were to search for a silver lining in this Agnipath controversy, it has to be this: Instead of indulging in finger-pointing, we need a deeper and more constructive conversation on the need for the government, industry, the armed forces and civil society to work together to ensure that long-term systemic solutions are found.
Why await this new scheme? Has the Mahendra Group, so far, reached out to thousands of highly skilled & disciplined ex-Servicemen (Jawans & Officers), retiring every year & desperately seeking a 2nd career. It would be nice to get some statistics from your Group.— Arun Prakash (@arunp2810) June 20, 2022
The need is palpable. And the sheer waste of human capital is staggering. Every year, as many as 60,000 defence personnel leave the armed forces. Barely a small fraction find jobs, let alone a proper second career.
To top it all, four years from now, imagine the situation when 75 per cent of the 46,000 Agniveers are forced to find jobs outside. This crisis will progressively worsen as the Agnipath scheme aims to ramp up hiring to 1.25 lakh in four years. So what’s the way out?
A new collaborative model
The Directorate General Resettlement (DGR) is tasked with the onerous challenge of resettling
veterans and jawans who either retire or take premature retirement from the armed forces.
Some of its existing models have delivered results, like the six-month officer reskilling programmes that the DGR has evolved with the Indian Institutes of Management, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and the Management Development Institute, Gurugram. Applicants are selected by the DGR for the 50-60 seats in each institute. The DGR pays for 60 per cent of the course, while the candidate is expected to cover the balance.
However, crossing that chasm from a relatively secluded, disciplined and regimented life in the armed forces to the wider civilian world with its own uncertainties and ambiguities can be formidable. Especially since there isn’t enough hand-holding to navigate the world of business, especially in the initial stages.
At the end of the programme, students use their own networks to get placed. It is seldom easy. Very few companies have a well-established programme for hiring veterans. Despite that, many deserving candidates have successfully made the transition to the corporate world.
Instead of squabbling on Twitter and signing endless memorandums of understanding, the DGR, companies and industry associations need to build bridges to deal with this critical transition. It starts with understanding the journey that officers and jawans go through and the difficulties they encounter, some of which are beyond their control.
Different strokes for different folks
Over the years, there’s a widespread industry perception that veterans are cut out largely for security and administrative roles. Such a narrow view of their potential hurts their chances of gaining a meaningful role in industry.
Armed forces personnel come from varied backgrounds. And the three branches also have their own differences. Some of them, especially in the navy and air force, are exposed to technical areas like data, technology, logistics, software development and risk management.
If you’re not intimately familiar with the work that officers in the armed forces do, the chances are that you will struggle to assess the experience that these officers bring to the table. That’s why a few like Amazon, Wells Fargo and others have inducted some of their lateral hires from the armed forces to join the interview panel.
Hiring one-off candidates is one thing. Building a hiring and onboarding culture for veterans is a whole different ball game. It is a major leadership initiative, often bracketed under the diversity and inclusion agenda in a global firm and it calls for serious commitment from the top.
At the Wells Fargo India office, a senior lateral hire — a naval commander with 20 years’ experience — took the initiative to lead and build a veterans programme. He had to build a business case, sensitise hiring managers and generate greater organisational awareness. After many years, the programme now has some kind of critical mass.
Like Wells Fargo, many US firms have well established veterans’ employment programmes. The US government has taken the lead to nudge established firms to make public commitments. For instance, Amazon has committed to hiring 1,00,000 veterans (and military spouses) globally by 2024. As part of the programme, it has various initiatives for veterans once they come on board, including mentoring programmes with other veterans, training for the veterans and also their supervisors to sensitise them on the dos and don’ts on how to deal with them.
In 2019, Amazon rolled out its first pilots of its veterans’ employment programme in India. Since then, it has hired around 400 officers and jawans in various roles. However, it is still a drop in the ocean. If the DGR, government and industry bodies like CII and Nasscom collaborate deeply to strengthen the ecosystem, a lot more can be done.The writer is co-founder of Founding Fuel