When Michael Webeck was medically discharged from the Army, he found the unstructured days and freedom to make his own decisions the most challenging aspects of civilian life.
The 24-year-old joined the Australian Defence Force (ADF) straight from school at the age of 17 and became a combat engineer, specialising in explosives and construction, and was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012.
After five years he was discharged after experiencing some physical injuries and being diagnosed with lupus.
“With my experience, I knew I still wanted to do something hands-on and be outdoors. I think that was a trait before the Army as well … but nothing really popped up,” Mr Webeck said.
“Without structure I was going off the rails and I did develop a bit of a gambling problem.
“That was spiralling out of control at times so I had to build my own structure so I threw myself back into work and into the gym.”
Mr Webeck worked for a short period in construction and formwork before he came across recruitment agency WithYouWithMe.
The veteran-owned start-up company was launched in July 2016 and specifically transitioned personnel from the ADF into the private sector.
The agency assigned Mr Webeck an ex-military mentor and found him a 12-week paid traineeship program with a telecommunications company rolling out the National Broadband Network.
Nearly 90 veterans have since completed the traineeship and can earn up to $100,000 a year.
Mr Webeck established his own business as a telecommunications technician and is subcontracted to install the NBN around Sydney.
“I want to make it work and it’s quite exciting and daunting, but it’s a new chapter,” he said.
Transitioning out of the military
Each year about 5,500 people are discharged from the ADF — about 62 per cent are voluntary and 38 per cent for other reasons, including medical discharge.
All members leaving the ADF complete a “transition process” that includes coaching sessions about preparing for civilian life, a two-day job search preparation workshop and interview skills.
A Defence spokesperson said transition coaches maintained contact with personnel for up to 12 months after their departure, and a separate Career Transition Assistance Scheme provided financial and career support.
“The support available to ADF members is multifaceted and focused on the member throughout their employment in the ADF, through the transition process, and after they have left Defence,” the spokesperson said.
“Defence does not provide this support in isolation; we form part of a whole-of-government effort to enhance services and promote their availability to all who might need them.”
According to a report by WithYouWithMe, 30 per cent of veterans are unemployed after leaving the ADF.
Just under 4 per cent are facing long-term unemployment and have been without a job for more than 12 months.
Ninety-six per cent of the agency’s clients had to take a reduction in income.
“The Army is very good at transitioning people out of the Army … to help them leave, but it’s not a service set up to help them get a job in the civilian market,” general manager Tom Larter said.
Mr Larter was in the Army for 13 years.
“If a veteran decides to leave service and they struggle to find work, then they head into a downward spiral and they start to have issues around anxiety because they can’t find a good job, they can’t get money coming in and they can’t look after their family,” he said.
“We need to find them work to stop that from happening and if we can limit that, that will have amazing benefits for the economy, for the country and for these veterans transitioning.”
The ADF said the support it gave transitioning veterans “is considerably more than what is provided by other Australian employers”.
Valuing the soft skills of veterans
Mr Webeck said he felt he could have transitioned better if the ADF had provided more one-on-one mentoring and tailored coaching sessions.
“It may have been enough for some of my colleagues, but at times it wasn’t enough for me,” he said.
“I’m not saying there isn’t enough support, I’m saying there should have been some extra things, like working in a civilian company, the kind of structure you’ll get from them.
“I think the support they give you is still very ‘Army’. I think we need a bit more support getting outside jobs … more support with how to go about that.”
Mr Larter said many veterans, particularly those who did not receive a formal qualification through the ADF, found it difficult to translate their skills to a civilian job.
He said the agency ran a number of retraining courses and helped its clients tap into the “soft skills” they could bring to the workplace.
“They’ve worked in small teams, they have general leadership abilities and a good work ethic; they’re the type of skills we were looking for for the NBN [traineeship].
“They’re fast learners, they have a will to win, they want to succeed, they want to be the best in the team.
“We found that combat corps Army personnel, for example, were excellent at sales and recruitment because they love to talk to people, they follow a process really well because they’re used to systems in the Army … and they just love wanting to win.”
Mr Webeck said learning how to communicate and deal with others outside of the military environment was a challenge.
One skill though he said he did bring to the workplace was showing respect to superiors given the strict culture the Army demanded.
Mr Larter said Australian companies also needed to be open to hiring veterans.
“I think there is potentially a perception that people in the civilian market don’t necessarily understand some of the roles and functions veterans perform in the military,” he said.
“There is the perception that we spend a lot of time at war and there are damaged veterans. There is a small percentage that do need help but they get great support.”
Read online with ABC.