How the RSL Employment Program helps veterans and partners thrive in a civilian career

The civilian job market can pose challenges unique to veterans and their partners. The award-winning RSL Employment Program, delivered in NSW by RSL LifeCare Veteran Services, is here to help.

By Girard Dorney

You’d think a veteran with a warm, engaging personality and two decades of managerial experience – whose last role in the Army entailed responsibility over 100 people – would quickly find work in the civilian world.

That’s precisely what Mark Bransdon, Veteran Employment Program Coordinator at RSL LifeCare Veteran Services, was told for years.

“You always heard it,” he says. “I remember hearing back in the 90s, ‘When you get out, don’t stress, you’ll find a job because organisations love veterans.’”

So why, 11 months and countless job applications after leaving, was he still out of work? Why had he failed to secure a single proper interview? Why were the recruiters he reached out to telling him that he needed to specialise in cybersecurity – something he had no experience in?

Pure chance gave Bransdon the answer. His first proper job interview happened to be with the spouse of a veteran who explained the value he could bring to companies was not translating.

“She said to me, ‘I understand you’ve come from a team environment, but I need to know what you did,’” he explained. “She spent about 35 minutes after the interview giving me feedback, closing the gap of what I didn’t know.”

Veterans are shaped by Defence, which requires a mindset that can be diametrically opposed to what they expect to hear in an interview. During service, people don’t want you to “sell yourself”.

“If a hiring manager has never been part of the military and you’re putting information into your cover letter saying ‘I was section commander on operations overseas’, they may guess you went overseas at one point and led a few people,” says Bransdon. “You need to break that down, and you need to break it down into their language.”

It’s essential to begin this translation early, because those charged with recruitment can see hundreds of applications for a single role. So each individual application might receive only 10-15 seconds of initial consideration. “Candidate has only worked in military positions I don’t understand” could very well be a mental shortcut they use to filter a veteran out.

“After that feedback, I was lucky enough to get a face-to-face interview a couple of days later. And I went in there as a completely different person, because I finally understood the rules,” says Bransdon.

Mark Bransdon (left) has conducted mentoring sessions with recently returned veterans.

Wraparound support

Today, Bransdon’s job is teaching other veterans how to do the same via the RSL Employment Program.

The program is delivered in NSW by RSL LifeCare Veteran Services, the charity partner of RSL NSW, in partnership with RSL QLD. It has successfully supported more than 1,300 veterans and their families since 2018.

“We follow the wellbeing model of the Department of Veteran Affairs (DVA),” says Bransdon. “It’s a full-on, wraparound and holistic approach.”

The program has numerous advantages. Firstly, it has a large network of interested employers who understand the benefits of hiring former Defence members. Secondly, once they are in the program, veterans are assigned a dedicated employment consultant who will assess their needs.

Whether their resume and interviewing skills need a bit of polishing or they need more foundational assistance, veterans have teams and experts ready to help. The program is also keen to link them with the right workplace, not just the first one that will have them.

“We listen and work with the client to get them into the kind of work they want, because we know the restrictions placed on Defence families,” says Bransdon.

When “holistic” isn’t just a label

Of course, the challenges facing veterans in civilian employment often go beyond the need for certain skills.

Prior to serving in the Navy, Daniel Valois had a Bachelor’s degree in communication, a few roles in big media agencies, followed by a job in the health and fitness industry. After serving, he returned to health and fitness, rising to the point where he was regional manager of several gyms.

Navigating recruitment was not an issue for Valois. Nevertheless, struggles came.

“I’d gone as far as I could without actually opening my own franchise or own business, and I felt like I was being taken for granted by the people I was working for,” he says. “I actually stumbled into a bout of depression.”

“I’d been diagnosed with PTSD and other mental health issues associated with my Defence service, so I wasn’t working for about eight months. I really lost myself.”

A vocational program offered through the DVA helped Valois find his feet and led him to his new career. He now brings that lived experience to his work as a Veteran Support Coordinator at RSL LifeCare Veteran Services.

Part of his role is getting veterans in touch with Bransdon and the RSL Employment Program when they need specialised vocational help. But Valois is also there as a point of contact for the different types of assistance people sometimes need.

He describes a situation where a veteran with a physical or mental health issue might be seeking a job in order to cope with the cost of living.

“That’s why it’s really important for us to kind of identify what’s going on,” says Valois. “What’s their history? Is it actually appropriate to get them engaged in vocational help right now? Or should that kind of be put on the backburner until we can identify and help them with their other priorities?”

The program makes no assumptions. Once veterans are in, they are seen for who they are and assisted accordingly.

“It really is quite a unique experience for each individual and their family situation,” says Valois. “We can explore absolutely anything and everything.”

Bransdon says he doesn’t want any veteran or family member to go through what he went through.

“We’re very passionate about helping and educating veterans about what they can bring to an organisation,” he says. “Veterans have some amazing skills. They just need to know what they are and how to sell them.”

The RSL Employment Program is delivered in NSW by RSL LifeCare Veteran Services in partnership with RSL QLD.

If you’re a veteran or the partner of a veteran, learn more about the RSL Employment Program.

Related Stories
School students show support for young veterans via Postcards of Honour
Latest News

School students show support for young veterans via Postcards of Honour

Young veterans are front and centre of the Postcards of Honour program, coordinated by RSL...
Photo essay: Middle East Area of Operations Commemoration 2024
Latest News

Photo essay: Middle East Area of Operations Commemoration 2024

Highlights from an inaugural commemoration service for veterans of 21st-century conflicts, and why...
Two veterans on the life-affirming power of City2Surf
Latest News

Two veterans on the life-affirming power of City2Surf

Participating in City2Surf as part of the RSL NSW team has inspired Noel Bottrell and Alexandra...
New Veteran Entitlements’ Legislation Welcomed
Latest News

New Veteran Entitlements’ Legislation Welcomed

The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) has welcomed the Government’s legislation...