MILITARY VETERANS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Earlier this month, people across Wales came together on Remembrance Sunday to not only commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World war but to honour those who have served and paid the ultimate price for their country.

Yet, how many of us think about what happens to soldiers, aircrew or sailors when they leave the Armed Forces and return to “Civvy Street”?

Often it can be very difficult for many to find a job after years in military service, especially when there are so many others looking for employment in a tight labour market.
In particular, many will not consider other alternatives, such as working for themselves, because they have been in the forces for so long.

Yet research has shown that previous military service has one of the largest marginal effects on self-employment, with “veterans” being 45 per cent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.
One of the countries that values its veterans and their potential contribution to developing an entrepreneurial economy is the United States of America.

And according to the latest statistics, there are over 2.5 million businesses owned by veterans, which is equivalent to 9 per cent of the entire US business population. Based predominantly in sectors such as professional services, construction, real estate and retail trade, they employ 5 million people and generate combined annual sales of over 0.9 trillion pounds.

Given this impact, it is not surprising that the US Government provides targeted support for military veterans to start and develop their own business.

This is largely driven by its national enterprise agency, the Small Business Administration (SBA), which ensures that all of its support programmes are made available and adapted specifically for use by veterans and reservists, as well as their dependents or survivors.

This includes training programmes, such as the “Boots to Business” initiative, that have been introduced to train service members who are moving from military life to business ownership through courses focused on creating a feasible business plan.

In addition, the SBA has a range of funding programmes such as the Patriot Express Loan Initiative. Aimed at those veterans and members of the military community wanting to finance to establish or expand small businesses, it gives a decision on loan applications within thirty six hours and on the lowest interest rates available.

Therefore these programmes, in addition to many others at state and local level, mean that those leaving military service are given the backing they need to set up their own businesses after serving their country.

But what support is provided to British veterans when they leave the Army, Navy or Air Force?

This week, the UK Government published the annual report on the Armed Forces Covenant which sets out the relationship between the Nation, the State and the Armed Forces. The Covenant recognises that the whole nation has a moral obligation to members of the Armed Forces and their families and establishes how they should expect to be treated. 

As expected, here has been significant funding for areas such as mental health, education and accommodation for the Armed Forces Community.

Yet, despite the introduction of actions such as improved council tax relief, the establishment of a veterans’ card for commercial discounts and a pupil premium for service children, there still seems to be no specific support, as found in the USA, for those who leave the Armed Forces to set up their own business.

Whilst some of those leaving may well find jobs in the wider labour market, there remains an opportunity for the UK Government to help those UK veterans who may wish to make the transition into working for themselves. Indeed, the economic success of Israel as a start-up nation was largely founded on the entrepreneurial efforts of its veterans who had gained their technological knowledge within the Israeli Army.

There is no reason why we could not do the same here especially as there is a growing recognition that people leaving the Armed Forces have unique skills and experience in the fast-growing technology and cyber security sector that, with the right support, could boost the development of this sector.

Given this, I would urge our politicians to ensure, through the Armed Forces Covenant, that all of those who have served our nation bravely, and who wish to set up their own businesses, are given all of the support they need to get back into civilian life and to make a new start for themselves.

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