3 ways to build skills for business and employment

Nicki Young, Executive GM Veteran Services at RSL LifeCare, was joined by veterans Alan Toner, founder of EcoWalks Tours, Jeremy Holder, founder of TacMed, and Pete Liston, co-founder of the Veteran Community Business Chamber, to share their experiences of starting a business after their military careers.

Watch the webinar here for the full discussion. Here’s a sneak preview of three of the key messages shared by our webinar guests.

Find a balance between new and old skills

All of our webinar guests emphasised how much value veterans can bring to post-military careers. Pete Liston, for example, points out that many veterans will bring extensive experience in conducting operations, running activities, coordinating teams and building relationships. 

Alan Toner and Jeremy Holder encourage veterans to see where their existing qualifications might qualify for recognition of prior learning (RPL) – something they’ve both been able to take advantage of, Alan with a coxswain ticket and Jeremy with medic training. 

“There’s some intangible and tangible things that you can transition over from your Defence career,” says Jeremy. “In terms of tangible, I think most careers now have some form of civilian recognition through the Australian Quality Framework system.”

With the majority of Jeremy’s medic training having been delivered by registered training organisations including TAFE and a major university, he was able to go through the process of gaining recognition for his training. 

“You don’t just get [RPL] straight out of your Army career, or you certainly didn’t back in my day,” Jeremy says. “But I was able to skip three years worth of the ambulance system probation period.”

So while paramedics generally go through a three-year process to become qualified, Jeremy’s Army training and recognition of his prior learning meant he could skip that. 

“I still had to get a medium rigid truck licence to drive the ambulance,” Jeremy says. “I used the $1,000 transition grant to get my truck licence.”

Similarly, Alan used a transition grant to complete his master diving qualification. 

One challenge in all of that prior training though, Jeremy says, is that the military structure that’s been learnt doesn’t translate to a civilian workplace. 

“A digger would never call their CO on his mobile number on a Thursday night,” he points out. Whereas in his role as Managing Director of TacMed, he wants ‘radical transparency’ and for his team to call on him whenever needed. 

“The hierarchy of the military is not there,” agrees Alan, describing how he had to nurture different kinds of collaborative communication skills for the level of customer service he delivered as a cruise director in the Whitsundays.

Need a hand translating existing skills and identifying experience gaps for your new career? Find out more about the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program

Broaden your horizons

If you’re taking an entrepreneurial route and running your own business, find people who’ve been on that journey or have expertise in your area. Some will be in the veteran community but, says Pete, it pays to also look beyond that immediate group.

“It’s true that birds of a feather flock together, so look for places where people you want to be like hang out, and join networking and community events,” Pete says.

Reaching out to mentors in the education sector helped Alan pivot his business during COVID so that, with his regular tourist market gone, he was able to run incursions and excursions with schools and vacation care centres. 

After years of trying to do everything himself, Jeremy hired a business coach who helped him take his business to the next level. 

“I didn’t know the difference between margins and markups until I consulted a business coach,” he says. 

“Broaden your horizons and reach out to people,” encourages Pete. “If you ask someone for help, it’s very rare that they’ll say no.”

Be prepared for failure – but don’t let it stop you from getting started

“The first business I started when I was still in the Army was a failure,” says Pete. “But acceptance of failure has to be welcomed.” 

It served as an important lesson that just because you think something is a good idea, doesn’t mean it is. “You have to test the market, understand what it needs.” 

Indeed, the ‘test and adjust’ mantra learned in the military is one of Pete’s most valuable lessons to apply to business. 

“And don’t over commit and over resource until you’re getting positive feedback. There’s a decisive point when customers start paying – and that’s a test of the business’ viability.”

“I mostly learned by failure,” says Jeremy of his startup days with TacMed, which was run out of his spare bedroom. “I had no idea where to start so I just Googled ‘how to start a business’.” It wasn’t until the bank insisted on it that Jeremy produced a business plan. And now the business has more than 20 full-time and 100 casual employees. 

“Don’t underestimate the values you bring as a veteran and the network you made in the military,” Jeremy says. 

He adds, however, that it’s important to remember the military uniform doesn’t have to be what defines you. Running your own business or finding employment gives you the opportunity to embrace other aspects of your identity, while always being proud of your military heritage. 

For assistance translating existing skills to civilian careers, identifying and closing experience gaps, and more, find out more about the RSL Veterans’ Employment Program

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