James Trehearn knows all too well how essential it is that contemporary Veterans are supported in their transition into civilian life – especially when it comes to their careers.
Nearly a decade after leaving his Chief Petty Officer role in the Royal Australian Navy, James has settled in as a Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) professional at WA-based building and construction company Pindan, which is constructing RSLWA’s new headquarters in the Perth CBD due for completion next year.
His current role is one he relishes to James’s surprise, did not come easily at all.
Despite undergoing extensive training and amassing a huge number of skills during his 19 years of active service (among other missions, he was deployed to Afghanistan and sent to Banda Aceh, Indonesia as part of the humanitarian assistance and disaster relief aid teams following the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami), it would be nearly a year before James could find a job outside of the Navy.
“You get some assistance from the military but that is lacking and you really must know what you want to do, otherwise the opportunity is wasted,” he explained.
“I’ve found there is a stigma towards ex-Defence people within the civilian sector.
“I am proud of my military service, I have seen a hell of a lot, done a hell of a lot, and acquired a wealth of experience but the look you get when you say ‘ex-Navy’ still surprises me to this day.”
Upon being discharged in 2010, the assistance from the military’s Transition Department was minimal.
James was sent on a first-aid course, completed a dump truck course and was given $3000 financial assistance but it could only be used to fund specific training being provided by certain uppliers in limited fields.
“I applied for 360 jobs and was either too experienced, not experienced enough, or my experience was not valued – in fact, out of 50 qualifications I achieved during service, only six were recognised in civvy street,’’ he said.
“Eventually I was granted one interview which resulted in me being offered a role – which eventually led me to health and safety – only because that company preferred ex-Navy in operations and communications roles.”
James’ story is, unfortunately, not unusual.
Veteran unemployment in WA is five times higher than the civilian rate and underemployment is a big issue for many who do find a job.
Understanding that transitioning from the military into civilian work can be incredibly challenging, RSLWA supports Working Spirit, a company set up to help service personnel with employment focused tasks such as resume creation and interview skills.
“I think that’s great. I would’ve found it very helpful back in the day,” said James.
His own experience inspired him to become a founding member of the Guild of Defence HSE Professionals group on career and business professionals networking site LinkedIn.
“It’s a great informal networking group for serving and exDefence force personnel engaged in HSE leadership roles to share knowledge, experiences, challenges, solutions and camaraderie,” he said.