Q&A: The start-up helping veterans march into a suitable new role

This week we chat to Tom Larter, a serving officer for seven years who realised the problems veterans faced when looking for jobs when they leave the military and is now addressing that issue as ANZ CEO of WithYouWithMe – and organisation founded 2015 to solve the problem of veteran underemployment, help workers find meaning and plug skills gaps in areas such as cybersecurity.

ISB: Please tell us briefly about the issue of veteran unemployment and why the numbers of people unable to get a job are so high in the sector.

TL: It’s not easy by any means for veterans to transition from service to civilian life, especially when it comes to re-entering the workforce. Veterans have a lot of transferable skills – from project management to problem solving – but employers don’t fully recognise this. Often veterans are unsure what type of job they should aim for when they transition, or they enter the wrong type of job for them, which is why it’s so important to assess aptitude, intellect, psychometrics and culture fit to ultimately match that individual to the right kind of role and workforce them for them.

ISB: How did you first get involved with WithYouWithMe?

TL: I was an Infantry Officer from 2008 to 2017 and have witnessed firsthand the struggles of transitioning from service to civilian life. Like many veterans, I found that transition tough. In 2017, I joined the WithYouWithMe team as an account manager and quickly progressed to General Manager. Now, I’m the CEO for the ANZ region.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge in making the adjustment from military to civilian life and how did you overcome that?

TL: The biggest challenge is that of leadership. Leading in the military is far easier than in the civilian world despite some of the environments being harsher and more dangerous in the military. In civilian life, not everyone is aligned to a common mission, goal or set of values. So, you need to spend much more time with each individual figuring out what they would like to achieve and how to help them grow. That is why at WYWM we focused on building meaningful company values and mission so that everyone had a common starting point. I also talk to companies we work with about this idea when we discuss productive and functional teams.

ISB: How important is technology in closing the gap of unemployment among former military personnel?

TL: Technology is rapidly changing all industries and leading to a massive shift in what jobs are available. However, we know that technology is playing a huge role in plugging skills gaps and placing the right people in the jobs of the future today. We think technology roles have largely been over complicated and there are far more Aussie workers out there with the aptitude to take them on than you might think. With the help of technology, we’re able to focus on aptitude, not just experience, when it comes to these roles. For example, we use AI to track skills gaps and job trends and use online software testing to match workers with relevant jobs.

ISB: What has been the reception to WithYouWithMe’s efforts to date and how do you see the business developing in the next couple of years?

TL: The reception from businesses and the workforce has been great! We’ve grown so fast because we’ve filled a need, and been able to realise the full potential of people who would have otherwise been underutilised in the workforce. Our platform has successfully found veterans meaningful work by throwing out the CV and shaking up the outdated recruitment model. We’ve helped close to 12,000 veterans with our program. Over 3,500 veterans have completed our academy courses and we’ve placed over 1000 veterans in jobs. Now, we’re branching out to other underutilised groups of workers such as students and return-to work parents to help more people find the jobs of the future today.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one piece of advice you’d give to veterans looking to start their own business?

TL: Start planning early. It’s not as easy as you think on the outside and the grass is not always greener. Spend time researching industries, building a network and finding out what you are good at before creating a plan to exit at the right time. That is the right time for you, for the industry you’d like to join and your family. I understand that not everyone has that luxury but that is why we exist, to help people plan and transition regardless of how much time they have before they leave.

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