Brigadier (Retired) Aswhin Bhagat looked out of the big glass window of his eleventh-floor office in Bengaluru. Bhagat, having served in the Indian Army for more than 30 years, could have chosen a peaceful retired life enjoying a life-long pension and several social benefits that are reserved exclusively for defense personnel. Instead, the 55-year-old preferred to take up a new challenge as a human resource (HR) professional in a leading manufacturing firm.
Bhagat is not alone. Hundreds of ex-Army officers like him seek civilian employment after they leave the armed forces. However, veteran hiring in India hasn't been very vibrant, partly because of the lack of awareness, and partly due to the reluctance of veterans to search for a new job. Retirement age in the Indian Army varies according to rank and designation, with the lowest age being 42 and the highest 62. Many from the brigadier, lieutenant colonel, and colonel rank seek re-employment with the armed forces and are usually hired as consultants.
Many military veterans enter the corporate milieu at a much earlier age. Passion for hard work, good health, and eagerness to explore a new domain work in their favour. Indian companies have started to realize the important soft skills that people from the armed forces bring with them. They are now being hired in sectors like finance, aerospace, consulting, and information technology, as well as traditional areas like security and HR.
With over 1.4 million people in active service, India has the second-largest military in the world. It includes the Army, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard, and various paramilitary forces. More than 60,000 armed forces personnel across all ranks make the transition to civilian life every year. The majority of them are in their mid-40s while some are in their 50s. Not many of them seek employment. Others search for opportunities in the corporate sector that are increasingly hiring veterans.
Transitioning from military to civilian life may seem overwhelming. In reality, it's often easier than believed. A career in the armed forces makes a person adept at taking up challenges with total dedication. Leading people is a key strength of all veterans. A clear understanding of tasks, clarity of thought, teamwork, and timely completion of a mission are natural qualities of all veterans. These qualities can easily align with an organization's visions. Re-skilling and up-skilling are crucial for veterans so that they can transition into new-age roles with ease.
What the numbers say
A recent report by job-listing major Indeed has shed light on employment preferences of veterans in India. Between July 2021 and June 2023 teaching (5.38%) emerged as the top career choice, followed by security officer (4.08%), security supervisor (2.14%), and general manager (1.69%). Delhi (7.44%)) emerged as the most preferred city for veteran transition, followed by Bengaluru (6.56%) and Mumbai (6.50%).
Multinational companies (MNCs) like Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and UBS have put in place veteran hiring programmes to bolster their workforce. It's one of the first times that corporate India has come up with a concrete plan to hire people from a well-trained community, many of whom find themselves without a job before they turn 45. The India chapter of Wells Fargo's Veterans’ Team Member Network (VTMN) started in 2019 as a part of the organization's diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiative. The company has 17 veterans on its India team. UBS India launched the India Veteran Programme in February 2023 and has already hired 8 veterans. Goldman Sachs started the Bengaluru chapter of its veteran hiring programme in 2018, and the company has offered internships to 41 officers with nearly 50% becoming full-time employees.
More needs to be done
The Directorate General (Resettlement) under the Defence Ministry trains military personnel for their reemployment. The Army, Navy, and Air Force have their placement cells that operate like any recruiting firm or job portal. However, despite all their efforts, these organizations find little assistance coming from corporates. Many employers acknowledge that they have no knowledge about the working of the armed force and hence aren't aware of the available skills. Because of the lack of knowledge, most veterans are boxed into security and facility roles. The private sector has a unique opportunity to partner with the armed forces to integrate veterans into the corporate workplace and broaden the diversity and inclusion narrative in India.