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‘Don’t let veterans slip through cracks’

09:00am October 18 2019

Victoria Cross recipient and 2010 Young Australian of the Year Mark Donaldson urges businesses to value the skills of veterans. (Emma Foster)

Celebrated military veteran Mark Donaldson admits the transition into corporate life is not easy.

And it’s not just finding a job.

“It’s like walking away from a family,” said Donaldson, the first Australian in 40 years to be awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage in the face of sustained enemy fire during an ambush in the Afghanistan war in 2008.

“It's difficult to grapple with those conflicting thoughts of abandoning those you call friends, or brother, sister, those who you shared so much with. Why would you leave those who you implicitly trust?”

Mark Donaldson VC at a service to mark the Passing of The World War One Generation in London 2009. (Getty)

More than 5500 personnel leave the Australian Defence Force every year, and many face unemployment and under employment rates significantly higher than the national average.

But speaking ahead of the expected unveiling of benefits for veterans through the government-led Australian Veteran's Covenant in coming weeks, Donaldson told a Westpac event that his experience since becoming a strategic defence advisor to Boeing Defence Australia had shown him that veterans can “flourish” in business and “become something bigger than you possibly ever thought”.

Donaldson, who served for 15 years, said smoothing the transition pathway was key.

“It will also lift the success of business across the board,” he said at the Westpac Veterans employee action group event yesterday in Sydney, pointing to the value of “unseen skills” that veterans develop during their service, such as adaptation, resilience and behavioural understanding.

Queen Elizabeth II with Mark Donaldson VC, during a private audience at Windsor Castle. (Getty)

Indeed, research released by Westpac last year showed that veterans over-performed compared to the national average in the 12 leadership and strategy skills sought by employers, including program management (veterans were six times more likely to have this skill), change management (three times more) and leadership.

“There may not be many hard skills, but I do put it out there that military experienced personnel will fit in quicker, learn faster, be more loyal, relentless and professional than most,” Donaldson said.

“Along with skill, they'll bring resilience, pursuit of excellence, passion, hopefully humour, and will be a ‘force multiplier’ more than most expect. If your business has values and ethos, behavioural norms and standards ... that comes part and parcel with a veteran.”


Mark Donaldson VC addresses a Westpac Veterans’ employee action group event.  (Emma Foster)

Attention on veterans’ affairs is likely to fire up again in coming weeks with the continued roll-out of the Australian Veterans Covenant, designed to help the nation better recognise the unique nature of the country’s 300,000 veterans and their families.

As part of the Covenant, the new Australian Veteran's Card will build on the existing health and medical benefits available to veterans to include access to additional benefits from participating businesses. Details are expected to be announced by the government in the coming weeks.

Despite corporate Australia having some way to go, more employers are recognising veterans’ skills as highlighted by a rise in businesses signing up to the federal government’s Veterans Employment Commitment, through which they commit to proactively offer opportunities to veterans. Almost 130 businesses have signed up, including Westpac – which employs more than 400 veterans and their spouses and has a dedicated veterans recruitment specialist and supporting programs – as well as Donaldson’s employer Boeing.

“We need to make sure (veterans) don't slip through the cracks,” Donaldson said.

“The heart of it is that loss of identity can become hard to deal with and we want to avoid making ‘professional veterans’, who are seen as ‘victims’. We should try and provide guidance as best we can to help them sell their skills, not their service.”

Emma Foster is a freelance writer. Previously, she led Westpac Wire and was a key contributor until December 2022. Prior to joining Westpac in 2013, she spent almost 20 years in corporate affairs and investor relations, primarily in large financial services and consultancy firms, in Australia, UK and Europe. She is also a photographer and podcaster.

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