The entrepreneurial and workplace talent of Britain’s military veterans isn’t being fully realised, according to a report from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) which calls for a better connection between service leavers and the small business community…

The report, ‘A Force For Business,’ published ahead of Armed Forces Day, recommends an enhanced support package for those transitioning out of the armed forces, including a greater focus on the option of self-employment and the key skills needed to succeed in enterprise.

FSB’s research finds that more than one-in-ten (12%) of Britain’s small businesses have employed a service leaver in the last three years, with manufacturing the most common sector (20%) followed by Wholesale, Retail and Repair (15%) and Professional, Scientific and Technical (11%).

Among those employing veterans, the benefits they have found include resolving skills shortages (35%), improving team performance (27%) and providing fresh perspectives and creative ideas (26%).

FSB’s research suggests there are around 340,000 (6%) small businesses owned by service leavers, and the vast majority (78%) have grown to take on employees. 50% have between one and 10 employees; while 7% have in excess of 50 employees. 22% are sole-traders.

FSB National Chairman, Mike Cherry, said: “Setting up and running your own business requires courage, determination and a strong work ethic. These are attributes which service leavers have in spades, and why self-employment is a route well worth considering by those coming towards the end of their time in the Armed Forces.

“For those seeking employment, small businesses can often be better than bigger ones at spotting and nurturing talent, rather than discard a service leaver’s job application because some of their skills and qualifications aren’t necessarily from a traditional academic route.

“But there is room for greater support and advice to service leavers on the options of self-employment or finding work within an existing smaller business, and there should be more of a focus on the key skills needed to succeed in enterprise. At the same time, employers would benefit from a simplified way of understanding and recognising the equivalence between military skills and civilian qualifications.”

The report also recommends more financial support for those service leavers in need of further training and qualifications to achieve their post-military ambitions. And for small businesses which employ service leavers, it calls for a one-year holiday from Employer National Insurance Contributions.

Lt. Col. Ren Kapur, Founder and CEO of X-Forces Enterprise, and FSB’s Armed Forces Champion for Small Business, said: “Military service; the education, the knowledge and the experiences this provides individuals, is a wonderful foundation on which to build a career in self-employment or business ownership – people just don’t always know it when they are transitioning from the military to the commercial world.

“This is where X-Forces Enterprise has been leading the way since our launch in 2013, and the spotlight that the FSB is placing on this community is really welcomed. Many skills developed within the Armed Forces community are in high demand in the commercial world of employed work; cyber security, drone technology, telecommunications, logistics, prosthetics, and artificial intelligence, to name just a few.

“These extremely valuable skills must not be lost to the commercial world, either employed or self-employed – it is likely that these individuals can experience and flourish in both after serving their country so well.”

The report highlights a number of case studies, including:

  • John Geden, who after an army career and a second career as a police detective, turned his ‘mindfulness’ activity of beekeeping into a business in Hayling Island, Hampshire, which includes making and selling honey, supplying wedding favours, and training amateur bee keepers. John turned to beekeeping to help him relax after he was diagnosed with PTSD.
  • James Wilthew, a former Flight Lieutenant who served in Afghanistan. After leaving military service, James set up a business in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, selling handmade Afghan rugs.
  • Debbie Strang, who left the RAF to start a family, then went on to start a business which took over a disused RAF base on Unst, Shetland, and turned it into the UK’s most northerly resort and award-winning gin distillery.
  • PJ Farr, who set up a telecoms business after leaving the army, having been inspired by military communications technology. Based in Surrey, he specialises in providing superfast broadband services to construction sites across the UK.
  • Catherine Bunn, an RAF veteran from Inverness who set up a successful campervan rental business in the Highlands.

You can read the full report here.