British Army recruiting is under pressure. There are multiple causes ranging from some of the lowest levels of unemployment in recent history and the lack of a significantly stimulating recruiting campaign to entice young people to become Soldiers. When Colonel Recruiting briefed the UK defence academy in late 2016, a key issue he presented was the wastage resulting from the effects of the recruiting pipeline activities.
The average ‘time to flight’ from filling in application form to arrival at a Phase One training centre is currently in the region of 90 days. In a society, which is increasingly expectant of instant gratification, this is too long to retain all these high quality candidates and it shows in the statistics: Colonel Recruitment briefed that there were potentially 25,000 wasted applications in a single tranche of recruits.
One possible way to address this haemorrhage of potential recruits is to increase engagement frequency and quality with them as they await training. This is where a scheme being employed by 4 PARA could, if employed army wide, have a huge benefit:
PARAFIT: 4 PARA offers free fitness sessions every week before their drill nights to any civilians who are interested. This has the duel benefit of increasing the awareness of 4 PARA in the local community, whilst aiding recruiting (interestingly, 4 PARA is the most manned Army Reserve Unit). 4 PARA uses this approach to retain potential recruits whilst they wait for training. This also improves their fitness, having the subsidiary effect of improving individual likelihood of meeting the demands of physical training.
ARMYFIT: The same scheme, rolled out across the whole Army, could be used to encourage those who express interest in joining the Army to stay committed while they are engaged in the long early stages of the recruitment process. 90 Days is a long time and provides ample opportunity to change your mind or take up another activity which places a burden on your time, however if a potential recruit was encouraged to attend their local Army Reserve Centre they could receive an hour of physical training once a week and meet like-minded people who are also about to join.
This could be an increasingly valuable approach as the British Army gets smaller and regroups in larger garrisons, which are more naturally divided from the population.
ARMYFIT and the Community. The network of Army Reserve Centres around the UK is vast. It could be utilised to ensure that potential recruits have the shortest practical distance to attend a session. Additionally, many of our Army Reserve centres are based in areas with large communities of ethnic minorities. ARMYFIT could be a way of reaching out to these communities. This could help increase the representation of ethnic minorities in the Army, something which is an emerging priority.
ARMYFIT could be delivered at little additional cost. It already has the staff to do it and the real estate. This could be a crucial opportunity to keep the Army in the public eye, improve recruiting and offer something back to the community that supports us.
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James is a serving Army Officer working within the Army Recruiting and Training Division.