THE STRATEGIC DEFENCE REVIEW: POLICY FOR
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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'.
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.
50. Similarly, the Navy's attitude to wastage is
... 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
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.
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.
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'.
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.
These measures are delivering resultsit 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.
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 imperativethe
Services need to fill gaps in all skills and branches and over-subscribed
training courses for popular trades cause problems for recruiters.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 oneit
is an urgent practical necessity.
90 Q 301 Back
85, 89 Back
90, 681 Back
Report, Session 1995-96, HC 69, para 15 Back