I recently attended a webinar which considered today’s army recruitment and retention, looking at how far we’ve come.

It was a fascinating webinar – one of those that genuinely hooked me and delivered an abundance of information, debate and thought-provoking discussion. All of the participants, which included ex-military, Capita, and other Ministry of Defence (MOD) partner organisations, laid out their honest opinions, thoughts, ideas, concerns and hopes around a key question.

Have we turned the corner on UK military recruitment and retention?

I’ve listed below three key outcomes and learnings from the discussion. These are just a few snippets, and one thing we all agreed on was that there’s much yet to discover and discuss:

1. Army recruitment used to have a real problem, but we’ve together completed an ‘about turn’

It was addressed early in the discussion that recruitment into the British Army is now enjoying a much different chapter than 5 years ago. It was clear then that we, the Army, and our shared goals faced significant problems. Together, we have turned this around and 2019/20 marked a significant milestone whereby we filled 100% of the regular soldier and 95% of the reserve soldier targets for the first time.

Success has been realised, achieved and delivered largely through making the Army feel more relevant to its recruitment target audience. For example, the simple policy of placing young, serving soldiers into recruitment roles (alongside commercial recruiters) up and down the UK has been instrumental, and a brilliant example of ‘stripping back’ the Army and making it more relatable to potential servicemen and women.

The recruitment campaigns, which essentially remind ‘ordinary’ people that they can achieve extraordinary things, and evoke the Army’s core promise of ‘Belonging’ have also been hugely significant. Rather than go into detail about our campaigns in this piece, we’ll release an article dedicated solely to them in the coming weeks.

Capita has also made an Army career more appealing and relatable for a much wider audience than ever before – seeking to appeal specifically to females and members of the LGBT and BAME communities.

These changes and courses of real action have undoubtedly been pivotal to our recent success. However, the ‘wrapper’ to all of this has been true partnership - the only pathway to real success. As Cath Possamai, MD of Capita and the Army’s Recruitment Partnership Project stated on the webinar, “two years ago, both Capita and the Army realised that we could partner together to win together, which we hadn’t in the past. This changed everything, and we haven’t looked back”.

2. Successful recruitment relies on successful retention (and vice versa)

Recruitment and training are intrinsically linked, and the best strategy for either will simply fail if the other is not equally prioritised, managed, and nurtured. A key challenge facing the Army, Navy and Air Force is that military recruitment and training is not just about hitting numbers – in many ways the easy part! For the British Army, success means recruiting 9500 soldiers across 76 different trades and specialisms, and ensuring they commence on dates that coincide with relevant, chosen and desired training.

Forces recruitment is not like ‘normal’ staffing, whereby an organisation advertises a role, receives applications, arranges interviews, hires and then commences their successful candidate. In MOD recruitment, applicants simply apply to join a force, with the vast majority of hopefuls (up to 80%) not knowing what specific trade within the force they wish to pursue!

It is Capita’s role to guide  Army applicants through a challenging recruitment process whilst simultaneously educating them about the career pathways and roles available, and encouraging the right number of trainees and recruits into specific areas at the right time – be it within the combat, engineering, medical or support fields. Success is only reached when both the Army and the recruits hit necessary quotas and the required levels of job (and career) fulfilment! 

3. Capita’s experiences and expertise mean our success is sustainable

One of the best things about our success is we know that, by maintaining our strong partnership, and exhibiting the same resilience and agility we have demonstrated over the past few years, it is sustainable and repeatable, and capable of even further development and innovation as we seek to harness the best that technology and automation has to offer for our staff and candidates.

Strong engagement with applicants throughout the recruitment process is also critical for future success – particularly since only 8% actually know someone in the military. It is therefore our responsibility and duty to ensure all their questions, concerns, thoughts and ambitions are known and addressed. A fantastic example of how we do this is via a digital communications platform anonymously connecting those considering an Army career directly to serving soldiers. This has allowed them to ask questions that are typically avoided or overlooked in face-to-face discussions, and this channel has proven hugely successful in demystifying the Army and what it is to be a service person.

Moreover, we are acutely aware of the changing demographics that will impact the future of the Army and mould our campaigns. For example, the overall numbers of 16 to 24 year-olds in the UK is declining, more of them are obese (and thus fail the required fitness standards), and more are from ethnic minority backgrounds. All of these are hugely significant in terms of what the next generation of our armed forces will look like, and we must ensure that our campaigns and strategies adapt, inspire and succeed accordingly.

We must also continue to react and demonstrate agility to ensure the Army remains attractive and relevant to the ever-changing expectations of our audience. Only by best utilising technology, creating learning experiences around the needs of recruits, harnessing the very best of both military and civilian expertise, and striking a perfect balance of public and private sector expertise, and cultures can we achieve this. By truly knowing our MOD customer and engaging with our target audience better than ever before, we are succeeding, and are determined that we will continue to do so.

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