Armed Forces Day

How Barclays is helping unlock career potential for military spouses

27 June 2024

After 15 years spent teaching at schools around the UK, Sarah Locke joined Barclays as a Business Relationship Manager in 2023. To mark Armed Forces Day, she tells us about her experience of being a military spouse, the challenges of securing permanent employment when you “move around as frequently as we do” – and how Barclays is supporting service leavers, veterans and their families to find a career.

When Sarah Locke began her career as a Business Relationship Manager at Barclays in 2023, she was living in Glasgow, Scotland. But she didn’t stay in that location for long.

As a military spouse, Sarah and her family are frequently on the move due to her husband Andy’s role in the armed forces. Currently based in Hampshire, England – close to the army headquarters where he is stationed – Sarah and her family have also lived in Devon, South Wales, Cambridgeshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire. “I’ve only been at the bank 15 months, and I’m in my third house already – that’s property number 13 in the last 19 years,” she says. “You don’t get much choice over where your husband’s going to be assigned.”

Sarah and her husband outside their home

The process of applying for a new house, relocating to a new area and finding local schools, doctors and dentists can be demanding. Impact on home life aside, switching locations so frequently can come with a unique set of career challenges for military partners – especially when it comes to securing permanent employment. “When we moved to Yorkshire in 2006, I started to apply for local receptionist roles – anything that could be a good fit temporarily because we were only going to be there for two years. But I wasn’t very successful in gaining work, so at that point, I decided to do my Postgraduate Certificate in Education.”

After completing a distance learning teaching course through the University of Cumbria, Sarah pursued a career as a primary school teacher. But each time they moved locations, the change was difficult. “After 15 years as a teacher, the benefit of knowing the children that you’re going to be working with is massive. It was frustrating that I could only ever be a stand-in.”

"I wasn’t sure how my skills could be applied in the finance sector"

In Glasgow, Sarah was introduced to a colleague, also an armed forces partner, who encouraged her to connect with the Military and Veterans Outreach team at Barclays. “I knew I had lots of transferable skills – but I wasn’t sure how they could be applied in the finance sector,” Sarah says.

When preparing for her job interview, she started to think about the competencies that she’d built up in her time as an educator: “I’d managed risk and completed risk assessments when I’d taken a class of 28 children on a school trip – but trying to show that in an interview for a global bank was a bit of a challenge.”

As it turns out, many of her experiences have stood her in good stead for a role at Barclays. Moving locations so frequently meant that Sarah was able to connect with lots of people from different cultures and backgrounds. Now that she spends a large portion of her working day supporting customers with financial enquiries, she understands the real value of this.

There are a lot of skills that the military spouse network has, but they may not be aware of how they can be applied in different industries

Sarah Locke, Business Relationship Manager, Barclays

Sarah smiling to her husband

“I can speak to any person who’s a business owner within the UK,” she says. “There are a lot of skills that the military spouse network has, but they may not be aware of how they can be applied in different industries,” citing resilience, strong communication, flexibility, determination and empathy as attributes that are often associated with military spouses. “By focusing on my strengths, values, confidence, networks and future possibilities, I was able to take positive action in Autumn 2022 by deciding to join the bank – and now I’m looking forward to what’s to come,” she adds.

Finding career paths for the military community

At Barclays, there is a recognition of the value and skills that the military spouse talent pool can bring to the organisation and the UK economy. Kevin Gartside, Head of Military and Veterans Outreach at Barclays – and a former soldier in the army – explains that programmes linking people to the right jobs can have a significant impact from an economic standpoint. “As an employer, it brings a broader diversity of thought which adds huge value to us as a business. Not only that, but matching individuals to the right sectors and jobs is also beneficial to the wider economy.”

Speaking from a military family standpoint, Kevin says that ‘‘you don’t know what you don’t know” – particularly when it comes to learning and applying skills to a new industry sector. “If we can help people identify their potential strengths and skills, then we can make employment opportunities more optimal for them.”

The bank has partnered with the Forces Employment Charity (FEC) – a non-profit that provides support and training to UK veterans and service family members – to launch the Military Spouses Employment Programme. Established earlier this year, the initiative seeks to boost employment opportunities for the partners of those in the armed forces community – providing support around writing CVs, drafting elevator pitches and accessing networks.

Military spouses Employment Programme in action

Kevin says: “The FEC was keen to set up a military spouse employment programme, and the stars aligned. We’ve come together to create this employment pathway – and we’re starting to see the fruits of our labour with spouses and partners getting jobs at Barclays and with other employers.”

While the programme is still in its infancy, Kevin and his team are hopeful that this employment initiative will help them find roles for hundreds of military partners.

A lot of the time, people just don’t have the opportunities. It’s about opening the door to give them a chance

Kevin Gartside, Head of Military and Veterans Outreach, Barclays

The bank has also extended its military self-identification option for colleagues – which enables prospective talent to identify as being part of the military community – to include military spouses and partners. Since rolling this out as part of their external application process in mid-2022, the bank has hired 95 spouses and partners into full-time roles – in addition to more than 330 veterans in the same period.

Flexible support for armed forces families

Aside from giving candidates employment opportunities, it’s also crucial to support them within their roles. Sarah, who now works remotely, says: “At one point, my husband was notified of a promotion that came up, and he needed to start within five weeks.” This can be tricky to navigate, particularly for those who are required to be in the office for a set number of days per week.

Acknowledging the complexity of this issue, Barclays rewrote its Military Leave Policy to offer armed forces partners greater flexibility. Kevin says: “If your partner, husband or wife is being posted to a far-flung place, this will be taken into consideration for remote and flexible working reasons. Having that helps take away a lot of the uncertainty when having to move house – and it’s a real carrot for the military community”. While Sarah hasn’t had to make use of the revised policy just yet, she says that she “knows the help is there when she needs it”.

Barclays’ commitment to supporting the military community through a combination of employment pathways, training opportunities and internal initiatives is a focus that helps fulfil its purpose of working together for a better financial future.

Kevin explains. “Soldiers, sailors, and airmen and women can be kept happy in their jobs – but keeping their families happy with a support network is critical, too. Military spouses and partners are one of the most underemployed cohorts around, but when you dig into it, they’re extremely capable and are often highly qualified.”

Sarah agrees, adding that the military spouse talent pool shouldn’t be overlooked by employers. “If the location means that they’re not going to offer you a role, then employers are really missing out on the talent that’s available to them. I was always just a temporary person in my previous roles. I’d never had an opportunity where I was employed for longer than two years – but I can see that I have a career at Barclays.”

Military and Veterans Outreach

Barclays’ Military and Veterans Outreach initiatives have been supporting service leaders in building successful post-military careers for over 10 years. In the past year alone, the bank has helped more than 1,100 military community members find work, with more than 400 joining the Barclays workforce. The bank recently launched a military spouse employment programme in partnership with the non-profit Forces Employment Charity (FEC). Those from the military community who are interested in finding out more about the opportunities at Barclays can register here.

Recognising the entrepreneurial spirit that is central to the military community, Barclays has also set up a Veteran and Military Spouse Founders Programme in partnership with Eagle Labs Academy to provide support and education for those looking to scale their businesses and startups. Veteran and military spouse founders with entrepreneurial ambitions can register their interest through the Eagle Labs website