Nicole Roberts - What Veterans bring to the workplace

30 January 2020

Nicole Roberts is the Manager of the YMCA Wodonga Sports and Leisure Centre. Here she talks about her experience in hiring ex-ADF member Ashley Durham and what he has achieved since his employment began. 

Hiring a former ADF member

When it came to Ash’s placement I knew that it was an area he wanted to be in and it was a placement that his Rehabilitation Service Provider wanted him to have. I usually would not look to hire any temporary placements in Ash’s role because it is an important role in our organisation. It’s a key role, the first impression of our business. It is expected that staff know a lot about our business, our membership options and the programs we provide, with the admin role it’s more than the swiping of a membership card.

From 6 week placement to permanent staff member

Ash was a pleasure from his first day. We treated him like any other employee that starts with us, full induction provided and a welcome mat laid out to all fellow staff members. His six week placement was split into giving him experience at the front desk, working with the Health Club instructors in the Gym and being my administration assistant working on Health, Safety and Environment work.

It was not long into his 6 week placement that I already knew we wanted to keep him on our team. The feedback from staff and patrons was positive and he just fit into the team and culture in Wodonga so perfectly.

Providing further training

Ash was passionate about the Fitness Industry and had already begun a Certificate III in Fitness before being unable to complete that course. He was studying a Diploma of Business Administration and Frontline Management because he was unable to fulfill the physical requirements of his Certificate III. We decided that there had to be a way where Ash could accomplish both.  I sat down with our Health and Fitness Coordinator and looked at what Ash had completed to date and the requirements of a Certificate IV in Personal Training, which is what Ash is enrolled in currently. DVA were more than happy to accommodate this further training which, once completed, can see Ash develop further into other areas of our organisation.

Being familiar with the challenges

My husband was ex-Army. He was a Fitter and an Armorer was his trade. He discharged in 2001 so he knew what it was like to be in Ashley’s position. He himself had been deployed and he applied to be discharged. He also had mates who were in the same position and had heard about them trying to get that support and that help upon discharge and knew that it’s not always easy. Sometimes it can be very discouraging and it can be very easy to get lost in the system, so he knew that it was about getting that support. You’ve done your time, you’ve served your country and now it’s time to get back into the workforce.

With what my husband went through when he left the military, I can relate to the difficulty of some young men trying to get employment with limited experience. As I said, my husband was an Armorer, and I mean who needs to hire an Armorer? However he received some support and was able to do a bridging course in Engineering. I know that having that initial support meant a great deal to him.

On time is 10 minutes early

I don’t think you’ve ever seen a late Army man. Ash is always on time (Ash – ‘On time is 10 minutes early’). He has excellent communication skills and his manners are amazing, he particularly addresses people as Sir and Ma’am. We also have other staff members who are ex-ADF so they were able to help him out as well.

Ash had quite a few attributes that stood out when he first started, his passion for fitness, knowledge of fitness and the body, he presented with excellent communication skills and, last but not least, compassion and empathy. I don’t think anyone goes through what Ash has been through and not come out the other side with these attributes.

Management were aware that Ash was ex-Army and that he was initially here for a six week placement, and they also noticed these attributes. We have many Vietnam Vets and former ADF members at the Wodonga Sports and Leisure Centre and, with his time in the ADF, Ash helps a great deal when liaising with these patrons.

These clients also have a great relationship with Ash as well. They are very comfortable with him when they come in and have many conversations with him. It is good that he is able to talk the talk and empathise with them. Ex-military members make up an amazing number of our members here, so it’s great that we have Ash here working for us.

What Veterans bring to the Workplace

Ash treats others the way he would like to be treated. Treating all our customers with respect, greeting them with enthusiasm and going above and beyond to resolve any problems and issues which is what will keep our customers coming back again and again.
Even though he is still early in his frontline training, we can already see that his passion for the fitness industry is contributing to membership numbers. For instance, when talking to a customer about membership options he asks all the necessary questions to ensure a customer is receiving the service they are looking for. In the short term this increases the “buy in” and, importantly, customer satisfaction ensuring we have an engaged relationship built on trust with the YMCA staff who deliver the services we offer.
I’d have no hesitations hiring ex-Defence Force members. Ash has been nothing but hard working and reliable and that is all any employer could ask for.