What veterans want in their post-service career

Skilled veterans seek a healthier work-life balance as they leave service, but there is no one-size-fits-all job solution, according to a new study conducted by Commissionaires.

Members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are leaving their service careers earlier, with more education. Census data released by Statistics Canada in July 2021 revealed that, of 461,240 Canadians who were counted as veterans, almost one-third (32%) are in the core working age group of 25 to 54.

That means employers faced with labour shortages have the opportunity to appeal to a unique potential workforce experienced in highly regimented, intense environments. The transition from service to civilian life can be difficult, and not every company can offer the right fit.

“We partnered with Environics Research to study the employment needs and aspirations of retired and soon-to-retire service women and men,” said Captain (Ret’d) Harry Harsch, Chief of Staff, Commissionaires National Office and a 36-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Navy.

“While today’s veteran needs have changed, Commissionaires’ mission of supporting them has not. We primarily exist to provide meaningful employment that meets the needs of veterans of the CAF, the RCMP, and their families.”

Commissionaires was established in 1925 to help veterans of the First World War transition back to civilian life through employment. Today it is Canada’s largest private sector employer of veterans and the country’s only national not-for-profit security company. Through the decades, the organization has also been generous in supporting community projects and causes through volunteer work and donations in direct support of CAF and RCMP veterans and their families.

“The intent of this project was to learn about the characteristics, values, and motivations of today’s veterans,” explained Sarah Roberton, Vice President, Corporate & Public Affairs at Environics Research, a company that specializes in social values and has previous experience conducting research with veterans.

When veterans were asked their vision for their post-service employment, Roberton said many expressed the desire to help people. “Being involved in work that makes a difference was a common theme in interviews,” said Roberton, noting, “this was something they valued about their military experience and also want in their next career.”

The research also found that one of the top reasons for leaving the military was to prioritize quality of life and work-life balance. Career opportunities that allow greater control over their life decisions, such as where they live and spending time with their partners and children, appeal to them.

Yet, despite some similarities, not all veterans want the same things.

The findings revealed Canadian veterans think about their future employment in different ways, and thus are likely to be attracted by different opportunities and require different strategies for engaging them.

One group comprises relatively older veterans with less education who are interested in non-managerial and mid-level positions in slower-paced, predictable environments. This group tends to seek stability, balance and good pay.

A second group, predominantly aged 35-44 with families, are striving for leadership positions and compensation that recognize, respect and reward their military or police skills and values. Possibly experiencing challenges finding the right opportunities and facing the need to support their family, they express greater financial uncertainty and difficulty making the transition to civilian life.

The third group tends to be single and driven. They want challenging, dynamic work environments where they can demonstrate their skills while learning and growing. They are confident in their ability to navigate today’s complex world and find their desired job opportunity. 

“This research helps answer questions about the types of employment veterans are looking for, what’s important to them, and how we can continue to meet their evolving employment needs,” said Captain Harsch of Commissionaires.

He added, “In a competitive landscape for highly trained veterans, this insight enables Commissionaires to tailor job offerings for every skill level, age group and mindset. The dedicated women and men, and their families, have sacrificed so much and truly deserve meaningful and relevant second and third career opportunities.”

The research took place in two phases. An initial qualitative phase involved 23 in-depth interviews with recent CAF veterans (past 5 years) or prospective veterans (in next 3 years) recruited via social media (February 8-24, 2022). A subsequent quantitative phase involved an online survey of 250 current and former CAF & RCMP members recruited via an online panel (May 24-June 7, 2022). Because this survey uses a non-probability sample, no margin of sampling error can be cited.