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Enabling Transition of a Soldier to Second Career through Skilling

Brig. Pradeep Sofat was Senior Fellow at IDSA Click here for profile
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  • November 02, 2015

    One Rank One Pension (OROP) has been the subject of debate over the last few months with accompanying media glare highlighting the struggle of veterans. OROP is symptomatic of perceived denial of justice after drop in pension percentages from 70 to 50 per cent for soldiers (term includes servicemen from all services), and a corresponding increase for civilian government employees from 30 to 50 per cent. The anomaly of ‘soldiers holding same rank not getting same pension, regardless of the last pay drawn, years of service and years served in a particular rank’, though unacceptable, has been a reality for the last 42 years. The inadequacy of the pension to meet the basic needs of soldiers and their family, as soldiers are denied the benefit of serving till 60 years of age, combined with lack of alternate career options after retirement, compounds the problem. Favourable OROP (whenever implemented) notwithstanding, transition to a suitable second career is soldiers’ primary concern, meriting an early workable solution.

    Armed Forces have approximately 24 lakh veterans, which constitute a well-trained, self-motivated and a highly disciplined work force, who have given their youth to the Nation. Every year around 60,000 soldiers retire, joining the ranks of veterans, with most of them retiring between the age group of 35 to 45 years.1 Soldiers, in Armies the world over, retire at an early age to maintain a young profile, and onus of their resettlement into second career remains a national duty. The retiring personnel need help and support for their career transition, which they rightly deserve. The organisation, on its part, needs to prepare them for life post retirement by providing requisite skills.

    Transition is closely associated to skills which drive the jobs in today’s world. The personnel from technical arms and services do acquire skill sets which help some of them gain employment in civil street; but the bigger concern is about the soldiers from non-technical arms and services who bear the brunt of tough and challenging conditions during service, and are left with little or no choice of jobs, post retirement, due to lack of expertise in desired fields.

    A soldier leads a professionally eventful life engrossed in operational, training and administrative commitments and realises the necessity of a second career only closer to his retirement. On the job training and military courses do not empower him with proficiency required in the corporate world. Though professionally competent and motivated, performing in the most challenging circumstances, he does find himself unprepared for transition at the time of retirement. Are there not enough opportunities or does the nature of the job preclude any effort during service to plan and train him for the second career?

    Firstly, let us look at the opportunities provided by the government for jobs in various departments, public sector undertakings and banks. The peculiarities of service and the fact that Armed Forces personnel retire much earlier than their civilian counterparts  has led to a number of policies, authorising reservations in jobs. The data acquired after compilation/extrapolation of available inputs reveal that a very miniscule (approximately 16-18 per cent) reserved vacancies are being subscribed to by the Ex-Servicemen (ESM).2 It can be attributed to lack of knowledge about available avenues/opportunities, reluctance in taking up an assignment away from native place, but mainly it is the inability of the candidates to clear the qualifying tests.

    Secondly, an analysis of the employment opportunities in corporate sector brings the focus on skilling. The current absorption figures of veterans in private companies are not very encouraging; bulk being contractual in the field of security. A veteran will get hired only if he meets the desired standard of skills, which in simple terms is the combination of experience and certification. He has the experience, as the word ‘veteran’ denotes skill and experience, but his expertise is not compatible with the requirements of business, which also demands recognisable certification. The intangible skills acquired during service by the veterans such as event organisation, human resources management, adaptability to a fast changing situation, and the aspect of subordination of ‘will of the individual to that of the group’ are difficult to quantify. So the service experience does not fully enable bulk of the soldiers to get jobs other than in the field of security. The environment, which otherwise holds a soldier in very high esteem, is one of reluctance to hire him for a decent paying job when pitted against millions of qualified aspirants vying for the same slot.

    Thirdly, there is an avenue of lateral absorption into uniformed forces, which are closet in terms of job content to Armed Forces and very little additional skills are required, besides reorientation. Soldiers are presently contributing 100 per cent to Defense Service Corps (DSC), but contribution to Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) deserves a serious relook.

    The Directorate General of Resettlement (DGR), entrusted with the responsibility of preparing service personnel for a second career, does plan transition and organises a host of courses in varied fields at reputed institutes. Though chosen with care, these courses barring a few are not job oriented and do not fully equip a soldier for jobs in civilian sector. The courses are mostly subscribed by soldiers during last few months of service to address personal issues, with limited focus on acquiring skills, and the skill sets remain below expected levels demanded by the industry. With regard to veterans’ willingness to upgrade the skills by undergoing resettlement courses, numbers remain minuscule (an average of 170 per year in the last three years) due to obvious post-retirement settlement issues and family commitments.3

    The strengths of a veteran and his ability to ‘do his best in any circumstance’ will not come to his rescue in making a transition to a second career unless his abilities are projected to the industry in a right manner. Honing of skills compatible with the requirements of the industry, with requisite certification as per industry requirements, and timely reorientation, are key to successful transition especially when a soldier is competing with the best in an already scarce job market. The DGR must identify skills and trades which guarantee a job in concert with the industry and accordingly repackage its training programmes. The institutes selected for training must be as per ‘job profiles on offer’, with an assured employability rider.

    The timings to undergo the skill development courses must also be in sync with the forecast of requirements (vacancies and specialisations) by the industry/corporate, ensuring minimum gap in qualifying, selection and joining. It will be in an overall interest of the organisation and the veterans if the training is conducted under the supervision and guidance of that very industry which is willing to offer employment.

    The skill development initiatives of the government combined with the national mission of ‘Make in India’ also needs to be integrated into the exit strategy of Armed Forces personnel, to enable advance planning, selection of aspirants and modification of training curriculum. This will go a long way in boosting employability of a trained, motivated and disciplined resource, optimally exploiting their potential in promoting national interest. Unless it is formalised in coordination with the concerned ministries to facilitate strategic partnership on skill development and entrepreneurship, veterans will be unable to achieve better avenues in civil life and will have to be content with accepting below par offers on contractual terms.

    For the services, it is imperative to psychologically prepare soldiers for transition to civil life while they are in service and impart the following key abilities (skills) to them, which have a direct bearing on their confidence and placement:

    1. Guidance and coaching to clear qualifying tests for reserved vacancies.
    2. Communication skills.
    3. Computer literacy.
    4. Basic English speaking and writing.

    The wellbeing of veterans and their transition to a second career by ensuring implementable policy initiatives is a national obligation. This not only has a welfare agenda but also an economic sense to it, as transition to a second career will obviate paying crores as pension to young retirees for 20-25 years.

    • 1. “Prime Minister to inaugurate twenty seventh meeting of the Kendriya Sainik Board”, Press Information Bureau, Government of India, May 18, 2007, at http://www.pib.nic.in/newsite/erelcontent.aspx?relid=28077 (accessed October 16, 2015)
    • 2. Based on author’s interaction with Directorate General of Resettlement (DGR).
    • 3. See “Demands for Grants of the Ministry of Defence for the year 2015-16 on Civil Expenditure of the Ministry of Defence and Capital Outlay on Defence Services (Demand No. 21, 22 & 28)”, Sixth Report, Standing Committee on Defence (2014-2015), Lok Sabha Secretariat, April 2015, p. 61, at http://164.100.47.134/lsscommittee/Defence/16_Defence_6.pdf (accessed October 23, 2015)

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