Select Committee on Defence Second Report


Recruiting the right people

48. In their efforts to ensure they attract sufficient numbers of young people, the Services also have to ensure that they are recruiting appropriate people. Failure to do so means that expensive military training can be wasted on people who leave when they realise Service life is not for them. Equally, it will be wasted on people who cannot contribute adequately to operational effectiveness. All three Services acknowledge that wastage in initial training is a problem. In the Army, 110 recruits should be moving into the trained strength each month but in the early months of this year this target was being missed by about 28 per month.[90] The Director General of the Army Training and Recruiting Agency (ATRA) told us—

    About two years ago we had about 4,000 people who were failing training. That is the most inefficient and expensive way of conducting business, not just because it costs a lot of money to have people failing but also because those that fail go back into the pool from whom one is trying to recruit more, and in a way they pollute it. The major aim in the last 18 months has been to reduce the number of failures.[91]

49. The Adjutant General described various measures adopted by the Army to reduce wastage. Changes have been made to Recruit Selection Centres to provide potential recruits with a more realistic taste of Army life. Wastage rates at this initial stage were about 50 per cent but it seems sensible to weed out unsuitable people at this early point before too much money has been spent on them.[92] The twelve-week initial training (known as the Common Military Syllabus (Recruit)) now provides 'a softer start' for Army recruits 'and we break them in slightly more gently than we did previously'. The Adjutant General assured us that 'we have categorically not lowered the standards' and that in fact the standard at the recruit selection stage had been slightly increased because it was the more marginal people who had proved most likely to drop out.[93] The Director General of ATRA reinforced the point that making initial selection more rigorous had proved beneficial—

    ... only those whom we believe have a 90% chance of passing training will be allowed to go straight into training. We are not rejecting those that do not match up to the 90%. People with a lesser chance we are giving courses to in order to try and increase their motivation and sometimes their fitness so that when they do start training they will also have a 90% chance of passing. I have to say that so far, although it has only just been implemented, that has been extremely successful ... [94]

The Adjutant General agreed that, although there were no firm statistics yet, this was having a beneficial effect on wastage and also on the number of injuries sustained by recruits in initial training. He believed that a 5 per cent reduction in wastage rates would be 'significant'.[95] The Army has also tried to reduce the waiting time between initial training and the second phase of more specialised training so that recruits can get on more quickly with the job for which they joined and there is less risk of boredom and frustration.[96]

50. Similarly, the Navy's attitude to wastage is that—

    ... we are trying to get people to pass as opposed to maintaining a rigid standard and get them to fail ... We do a lot of work. If youngsters have difficulty in adapting we give them remedial training ... or we back-class them.[97]

We referred above to fitness tests for women but this is equally an issue for male recruits. The Second Sea Lord told us the Navy is tackling that lack of physical fitness of recruits when they arrive for initial training by providing advice on building up fitness in the preceding period and giving additional coaching during initial training where necessary. The wastage rate in naval initial training at HMS Raleigh is now 29 per cent and improving year on year, although not as quickly as the Second Sea Lord would like.[98]

51. Wastage rates during initial officer training are also being tackled. Analysis is carried out of the reasons for each person dropping out so that remedial action can be taken. At Sandhurst, the wastage rate is now about 10 per cent. The Commandant told us that the course there 'absolutely has not been softened': the approach to training has changed but the end result in physical and mental toughness has been maintained.[99] This is a positive approach to the realisation that the Forces cannot afford high wastage rates in initial training anymore. Back-classing (retaking failed parts of training) and remedial work are undertaken by all three Service colleges to help those who might otherwise fail. At RAF Cranwell, the first time pass-rate is 75 per cent but this improves to 97.5 per cent when officer cadets are assisted by an additional 8 weeks' 'back-coursing'.[100] RAF Cranwell also told us that Air Cadets and CCF entrants have a reduced need for 'back-coursing' and incur lower fallout costs. At Britannia Royal Naval College, about 15-20 per cent of officer cadets are likely to fail the leadership module of training first time round but remedial training had proved very successful: ten years ago wastage rates at Britannia were 30 per cent but have now dramatically improved to 3.7 per cent.[101] These measures are delivering results—it was not, however, clear to us to what extent the colleges had weighed the efficiency gains from more remedial training against those of kicking out the low-achievers promptly and increasing general throughput. There may be a case for better targeted investment. We need to be reassured that those considerations are being weighed and balanced.

52. If the Armed Forces are to recruit the right people for the job, and retain them, it is vital that the information which potential recruits are given at recruiting offices and via other recruiting media is as accurate and realistic as possible. Recruiting methods need to reach as broad a sweep of young people as possible. It is equally important that the practices followed by recruiting officers are honest and fair. There may be a temptation, when faced with demanding recruitment quotas, for recruiters to persuade an inquirer to apply to a branch or trade in which they were not initially interested but where the recruiting officer knows there are shortages to be filled. The Second Sea Lord acknowledged that this danger existed, and the Chief Executive of the Naval Recruiting and Training Agency (NRTA) said that this was something he heard about more often than he would wish.[102] We were told by recently recruited personnel, during our visits to Service establishments, that it was not an infrequent occurrence for an applicant to be told there were no vacancies in the trade of their choice but if they joined another they would be able to transfer later. Although the possibility of transfer exists in theory, in practice a recruit is very unlikely to be allowed to transfer out of a trade or branch where there is a shortage. This may lead to frustration and difficulties amongst some recruits and could make retention more difficult.

53. Recruitment quotas are a practical imperative—the Services need to fill gaps in all skills and branches and over-subscribed training courses for popular trades cause problems for recruiters.[103] If Service life turns out to be very different from what young recruits expected, they may be inclined, unjustifiably, to blame the recruitment process. However, pushing people into areas to which they are not suited is pointless. It leads to dissatisfied and disaffected young people in the Armed Forces, who leave as soon as they can and who take back to their home areas a very negative view of the Services. The view of the Minister for the Armed Forces was that—

    ... investing money in people for some period of training and then to find that they are unsuited for it is neither of benefit to the Services nor indeed to the individual.[104]

And as the Chief Executive of NRTA acknowledged—

     ... There is no advantage whatsoever to us in ending up with a potential recruit in the wrong branch either because they will not have the intelligence to deliver the competencies that we want or alternatively they will just be unhappy there ... we obviously keep revisiting this issue to make sure it is not happening.[105]

Recruiting officers are given clear instructions about what they can and cannot do. If a recruiter feels an applicant could apply for a more skilled job than the one he was interested in, he could point this out—

    The purpose of the recruiters at first point of contact with the young people is to explain to them what is on offer related to their intellectual ability, but of course there is poaching going on. We try and minimise it exactly the same as the Navy does.[106]

The recruiting agencies must assess whether appropriate safeguards are in place to guard against poor recruitment practices. They must also ensure that those selected to carry out recruiting are the most suitable people available, and that they receive the necessary training and retraining.

54. In 1996, our predecessors concluded in a Report on Manning and Recruitment that—

    ... it was premature for the MoD to proceed with the closure of recruitment offices in some areas prior to installing new ways of attracting applicants and selecting recruits. We welcome the reprieve for some of the service Careers Information Offices and hope that this will give the message that the services do remain open for business. We attach importance to the potential recruit having the earliest possible contact with real service recruitment staff.[107]

The co-ordination of recruiting, and the visibility of recruiting, did suffer as a result of these changes. There have been improvements in recent years in the co-ordination with the work of Job Centres. There is a great deal more, we believe, that could be done at the level of individual initiatives to make more use of them, but practice is very patchy across the country. Here again, we find a sense that the MoD is being insufficiently energetic and imaginative in tapping into a wider civilian resource and building up links with a wider society. This is an area where more 'joined-up government' is needed.

55. The evidence suggests that, on the whole, the Armed Forces continue to attract a reasonable inflow of young people of the right calibre. But that relative success is being achieved in a contest where the challenge is going to get tougher and tougher. They will have to fight hard to remain an attractive career option, and they will have to be open to young, fit representatives of all parts of British society if they are to have a chance of recruiting enough people of the right quality. The case for the Armed Forces representing British society as a whole in its recruits is not just a moral or political one—it is an urgent practical necessity.

90  Q 301 Back

91  Q 652 Back

92  Q 80 Back

93  Q 310 Back

94  Q 652 Back

95  Q 308 Back

96  Q 80 Back

97  Q 85 Back

98  QQ 85, 89 Back

99  QQ 456-8 Back

100  Q 452 Back

101  Q 458 Back

102  QQ 90, 681 Back

103  Q 684 Back

104  Q 715 Back

105  Q 681 Back

106  Q 684 Back

107  Second Report, Session 1995-96, HC 69, para 15 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 23 February 2001