Have we turned a corner in UK military recruitment and retention?
3 mins read
I was invited to speak recently in an online panel discussion on the progress being made to drive recruitment and improve retention into our armed forces.
I feel I'm reasonably qualified to share my views on this topic. For the last three years, I have led a team of some 1,400 people – including 900 civilians here at Capita and 500 military personnel – whose job is to manage and deliver the Army’s recruitment efforts.
I am proud of the improvements I have seen over the past three years. The partnership between Capita and the Army is certainly delivering - last year we achieved 100% of our regular soldier recruitment target. We also achieved 95% of the reserve target, which is higher than it has been for many years.
Going forward, is our current success sustainable? Yes, absolutely. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, we believe we can still hit our full target of getting 9,867 regular soldiers into basic training this year, as well as 2,500 reservists and 700 officers.
A key factor in this success has been our marketing and advertising campaigns. Yes, they’re controversial and provocative – in some quarters at least – but they’re certainly effective. I love our campaigns – from the start of ‘Belonging’ in 2016 to the ‘Snowflake’ and ‘Selfie Generation’ last year to ‘Confidence’ this year. Whatever you think of the content itself, they’ve been hugely successful. In fact, our 100% recruiting success last year was significantly supported by the huge volume of applications we received as a result of the Selfie/Snowflake campaign.
Another really important change is that we now treat the recruitment and training pipeline as one – the two just can’t be separated. When it’s delivered effectively and flexibly, training influences recruitment in a very positive way – and vice versa. Recruitment sits in the same two-star command in the Army as training, and that allows us to work really closely together. That's been crucial to our efforts because the challenge of Army recruitment – and this applies to the Navy and RAF too – is not just about getting the numbers; it’s about getting the numbers across 76 different disciplines into training at the right time. If it was just about recruiting 9,500 soldiers, it'd be easy. It's actually quite a complicated puzzle to solve, but with the Army working flexibly with us around the training and recruitment pipeline, we’re finally resolving an issue that had never really been successfully tackled before.
Our overall engagement effort has also been critical to our recent success. Before we even reach the actual recruitment process, we have to set the conditions and societal awareness at the right level, so that we can get the volumes we need into the pipeline. The opportunity we have is to broaden the appeal of the Army to the widest cross-section of society possible – including women and ethnic minorities in particular. There is a high degree of focus and collaboration being applied to this as we look to create a more diverse force reflecting UK society.
2020 has been an unprecedented year in many ways, not least because of the impact of the pandemic and the subsequent economic downturn. In addition, the Black Lives Matter movement has also pushed the issue of racial equality up the agenda. I firmly believe these developments afford us a real opportunity to build on the great work we’ve been doing over the past couple of years.
Covid-19, for example, has demonstrated to the public that the armed forces are a safe employment area in terms of job security and this, combined with the economic challenges we’re facing, is driving higher application volumes and better retention statistics. Economic downturns always drive applications for the military – and we've already seen an uptick in applications over the last few months.
The BLM movement has also given focus and impetus to the need to accelerate and expand the Army’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. The services recognise that a more proactive and positive stance on building a genuinely inclusive culture is needed. This offers a huge opportunity if we can get this right – and the unthinkable if we get it wrong. In the recruitment space, we are acutely aware of the need to do more and we’re determined to do it.
So what does the future hold for Army recruitment and retention? Have we turned the corner? Absolutely. Last year’s results were no fluke. We have the correct strategy in place now and we’re working hand-in-glove with our colleagues in the Army across every aspect of the process. Next thing to watch out for from us? Our 2021 advertising campaign, which promises to be better than ever…….!
CEO of Capita Defence Recruiting Services
Cath has been Chief Executive of the Capita Recruiting Partnering Project since 2018. Her career background is in resourcing and talent, in which she has worked both ‘in house’ and as an outsourced partner across defence, financial services and technology.