Untapped potential: Engaging veterans in the corporate sector

There are over 350,000 veterans in the country today, with 5,000 returning to civilian life each year


Rodzali says with a little bit of ingenuity and training, veterans can be very marketable in the administrative field

MOHDAN Amran was earning about RM7,000 a month as a warrant officer for the Royal Malaysian Armed Forces (RMAF) when his service in the military reached 30 years and was forced to retire.

His five children — now aged between 18 and 27 — were all either in school or public universities at the time. Mohdan knew the time would come when his services in the military would no longer be needed and will have to look for another career.

His resume was impressive. He had a business degree from the University of Ballarat in Australia, and a diploma in Entrepreneurship and Business Management from Universiti Malaya, but with his wage rate and age, Mohdan feared that his application would be turned down when paired against young graduates. He was, after all, twice their age and would likely be double their asking salary.

“It is hard when I have to market myself at 50. With a 30-year experience, job agencies will feel somewhat guilty if they offered anything less than a senior supervisor role or a position as a manager, but that is tough because openings are limited at those levels,” he said.

Mohdan, however, was among the lucky ones. Almost immediately, he was able to secure a job at an events management company — one that organises the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition.

He said most veterans, who retire in their 40s after 21 years of service, find themselves jobless for more than two years during which, they will rely on their pension — which is only half of their average RM5,000 monthly payroll — to support their growing families.

“At RM2,500 a month, it is a real struggle. That amount is below the poverty line of RM3,000. Most are able to sustain for a maximum of two to three years with no job or a part-time role. But after that, once their savings are depleted, they are forced to reach out for help,” Mohdan said. “That has to change.”

Entering the Civil Job Market

T here are over 350,000 veterans in the country today, with 5,000 returning to civilian life each year. Many are in their prime, but find it difficult to compete in the labour market dominated by fresh graduates.

With a work history consisting entirely of military service, veterans often find themselves out of place and learning basic skills such as writing a resume upon retirement.

Translating their many military accomplishments to civilian terms can also be tricky. Corporations such as the Perbadanan Hal Ehwan Bekas Angkatan Tentera have since been established to facilitate the transition by providing training and reskilling courses to veterans in various technical and vocational areas, from electrical wiring to tourism management.

While the initiative has been successful in transforming many into accomplished entrepreneurs, much work is still needed to fully tap into the potential that veterans have to offer. This is where groups such as the RMAF Veterans Association (VA) come into play.

Its president, former air force chief General Tan Sri Rodzali Daud (retired), is looking at partnerships with the corporate sector to help create employment opportunities for veterans. For starters, he is eyeing recruitment deals with companies in defence-related industries such as aviation and logistics.

“There are many levels of veterans. General officers can be quite marketable in the corporate world if they can obtain good training prior to the end of their service. Given their experience in managing men — battalions, brigades, squadrons — management comes naturally.

“Those who leave after 21 years of service are retrained for about six to 18 months on a field they would like to be in, but sometimes the opportunity is not available. This is where we are trying to find a match,” Rodzali told The Malaysian Reserve in an hour-long interview in Glenmarie, Shah Alam, recently.

In the US, where some 200,000 service members return to civilian life each year, big firms such as JPMorgan Chase & Co and Verizon Communication Inc have pledged to hire a total of 100,000 veterans by 2020. Starbucks Corp has also vowed to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses by 2025.

Rodzali hoped a similar arrangement can be made in Malaysia where jobs can be made available to at least 10% to 20% of the total number of veterans.

“We are trying very hard to collaborate with industry players who can provide the know-how. Most people who leave after 21 years of service are mainly aged 43 or 44, so, they are still very productive and can contribute in many fields. They need that second career because they have three or four children who are about to enter universities,” Rodzali said.

With a diploma, a degree or an MBA and a bit of hard work, veterans can be quite marketable especially to defence-related companies, says Rodzali (www.destinigroup.com)

Finding the Right Match

Like many job markets in the world, matching available work with those who need it can be difficult. Human Resources Minister M Kulasegaran recently announced in Parliament that over 675,000 jobs had been created between January and August this year, but the take-up rate has been slow due to mismatch.

“We need to find out what is out there in the market. That is very important because in the end, we do not want our veterans to choose a field which is not available or needed,” Rodzali said.

For the RMAF VA, one of its focus is to find ways to help its 3,500 registered members — a significant number of whom are aircraft technicians — obtain specific certificates to work in the aviation sector.

“Although they have been servicing jets for the armed forces, they still need a civil license to work outside. So, we are looking at a few companies to help us come up with a very good module on how to assist air force veterans, especially technicians who need these licences,” Rodzali said.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia offers these licences only via accredited or approved training centres. At its most basic, the CAAM Part-66 Category A1 allows a person to be qualified as a professional to serve and maintain Malaysian aircrafts.

From there on, corresponding type-licences are required for different aircraft types and components.

Rodzali found that members who are non-technicians generally acquire a second career easily, particularly those involved in administrative work such as human resources.

“With a little bit of ingenuity and further training, they can be very marketable in the administrative field. With a diploma, a degree or an MBA, and a bit of hard work, they can be quite marketable especially to defence-related companies.

“Likewise, in logistics which the air force is very big on, so they can hook onto many civil logistic entities like mover companies. A number of them have their own companies with their own connection with people in the service so there is no problem there. I find that the majority of them have no real issues in finding work,” he said.

Most of those who leave after 21 years of service are mainly aged 43 or 44, so, they are still very productive and can contribute in many fields

All About Balance

In creating opportunities for veterans in the labour market, Rodzali is mindful that almost 60% of the 504,000 people unemployed in Malaysia are youths, a rate which has been gradually rising for over a decade.

Rodzali, who is an independent and non-executive chairman of Destini Bhd — a public listed company involved in maintenance, repair and overhaul services in the aviation, marine and oil and gas industries — said his own company employs a fair share of youth and veterans.

“It is good for companies to have a good mix of those with experience and the new generation. We would also very much like to give opportunities to young bloods to continue what the company is doing,” he said.

In areas where veterans have to compete with graduates, Rodzali said former military personnel must prove their worth and show their experience can add value to the company.

“Currently, I am in a defence-related company. We have employed quite a number of veterans and we feel that with their experience, they can help move the company forward.

“For companies like Destini, the veterans’ experience means better network. Knowing how to conduct business in defence-related industries like aviation is a plus. It is even better if you know people in the Defence Ministry who can help get things done easily.

“But as I’ve said, at the end of the day, you need to have a good mix,” said Rodzali.