Barclays AFTER Programme: helping veterans forge new careers
More than 12,000 people leave the armed forces each year and many struggle to transition into civilian life. Matt Weston – who lost both his legs and an arm in an explosion whilst serving in Afghanistan – understands just how dramatic that transition can be. Through his work with the Barclays AFTER Programme, he supports veterans making the transition back into civilian life.
Matt Weston was just 20 years old and serving with the Royal Engineers in Afghanistan when an explosion changed his life forever.
He was clearing landmines with 33 Engineer Regiment, when an improvised explosive device, or IED, went off. Matt lost both his legs and his right hand, suffered from a burst bladder, lacerated liver and burns as well as internal wounds that meant the removal of a section of his intestines.
He is thought to be the most seriously injured British solider to survive an explosion in the country.
As would be expected, his recuperation was long and difficult. Quite apart from the physical recovery, he suffered with mental health problems and remembers long periods of not wanting to leave his home.
But things changed when a colleague suggested he start preparing for life after the military. “My recovery officer sent me off to a CV workshop with Barclays and things just went from there.”
Matt eventually took up a role in the team running Barclays’ Armed Forces Transition, Employment and Resettlement (AFTER) programme for military veterans, becoming just the second full-time employee in the team.
“I was a non-graduate and left the army as a private soldier with serious injuries and then had mental health issues, but I’ve forged a career in a field I never thought I’d end up in. When service personnel I work with see what I’ve achieved, it makes them more positive about what they can do. If I can do it, anyone can.”
Barclays AFTER Programme
The AFTER programme supports people leaving the armed forces. Since being established in 2010, it has supported more than 7,000 military veterans and Barclays has directly hired around 700 of those on the programme to work with the bank.
Matt explains: “The programme has many threads to it. First and foremost, we’re there to help people transition to civilian life. This could be anything from helping veterans find somewhere to live to training and employment support.”
Barclays donates £250,000 to military charities each year, with colleagues also raising a similar amount. Those with the most serious needs are referred to service providers with the right expertise. Since the programme started, around £6 million has been donated.
Matt explains what happens for those who want to start finding work: “A lot of people are not remotely interested in financial services. Through their interactions with us, some decide they like it – and some retain their view!
“Irrespective of whether they want to work for us or not, our key commitment is helping veterans understand how their skills are transferable to other industries.”
Leaders in battle to leaders in finance
Matt explains why forces veterans have often untapped skills that can transfer to the corporate world. “There are various benefits to employing vets, diversity of thought for one. Instead of hiring people from the same schools and same universities into the same areas, we’re getting people who might think in a slightly different way.
“A lot of what you do in the forces is about managing and leading people. In a corporate setting, people often don’t get leadership training until they’re very senior, whereas you get leadership training from the role of private and upwards in the forces.”
Even those with seemingly specific skill sets can find a home: “People in the forces can become institutionalised – you don’t really realise what’s out there, you might not understand what your skill set translates to.
Our key commitment is helping veterans understand how their skills are transferable to other industries
“For instance, there’s a guy in my team who was a sniper. People might say what can he do? Well, he has amazing attention to detail, patience, exceptional communication skills – all assets that are really valuable in financial services.”
Beyond the AFTER Programme
Part of Matt’s work involves taking the best parts of the AFTER programme and supporting corporate partners and other companies to run similar programmes. “We can’t do it all ourselves,” he explains. “Of the 12,000 people leaving the armed forces each year, we’re only able to support about 10% of them, but by getting others to follow our example, we’re able to have a bigger impact.”
Barclays also supports those currently serving in the armed forces who face their own set of unique challenges, Matt explains: “Many service personnel move every two years due to redeployment. In ordinary circumstances that person is not seen as being settled – lots of addresses on your credit history can affect your credit score. Barclays is able to negate that.
“Similarly, people are often deployed abroad where there are no cash machines, so people need chequebooks. At a time when the use of cheques has massively declined, we’re able to make sure service personnel have what they need to get by.”
Barclays also runs military talent days across the country twice a year, with capacity for 500 people across three different locations. These events allow people to get information about Barclays and how their skills might apply to a role in financial services.
Nine Years AFTER
Back in 2010 when the AFTER programme began, many of those leaving the forces had been injured while in service. Nine years on, only about 5% of veterans who join the programme have sustained injuries. “I’ve seen the AFTER programme evolve over the years,” says Matt. “My first year, we only hired 50 people, but now it’s 100 plus per year – all veterans in regular forces or the reserves. It’s really rewarding to see the programme continuing to succeed.”
Now married and living in London, having moved from his hometown of Norwich, Matt reflects on the fulfilment he gets from his work. “What motivates me is helping others,” he says thoughtfully. “It allows me to help the sort of people I used to serve alongside.”