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The Identity Crisis of a Reservist

Somewhere in a forestry block in Sennybridge on a Friday night and in hushed voices…

“Billy…Billy”

“Yep. Over here”

“This is John. He is a Reservist who’s just turned up from work. He’s with us for the next four weeks. He is going to do the next 2 hours so you can go and get your head down. See you at stand to”

“Oh. Ok I was supposed to be on for another hour but… if you’re sure”

“Yeah no dramas”

“Ok then. Let me take you through the sentry brief John…’

I cannot imagine any Soldier being anything but pleased to receive this sort of news whilst’staggingon. This simplistic, tongue in cheek example highlights the old adage of ‘many hands making light work’ but events like this are rare. Opportunities for Reservists to train alongside Regular soldiers are ad hoc and my experience has been they are often offered at such short notice that only a select few Reservists can join. This happens in spite of the fact that Regular Army is undermanned and that many training events are planned months in advance, giving ample time for Reserves to be offered places and attend. An MOD website states: as a Reservist ‘you’ll train and deploy alongside your regular peers’ sotheargument for more of this kid of activity is evermore compelling.

There are many reasons why the Reserve rarely train alongside their Regular peers. The Commanding Officers (CO) of Reserve Units aren’t incentivised to make this happen or consider it too difficult to achieve because it is not happening at any scale. There is a lack of easily available, timely information to share and find these kind of opportunities. Two weeks notice is rarely enough to be able to make a truly meaningful contribution. Perhaps even, the Army has a lingering concern that Reserves are being seen as a bit of a gig economy. The Army is also reticent to work with business matching periods of low labour demand with opportunities to train for fear of appearing to either aid business or exploit the Reservist. Finally, Reservists continue to have a widespread reputation for being unreliable.

An Historic View

Having individual augmentees (as opposed to formed bodies) throughout the Iraq and Afghanistan campaign became the norm. The reason for this was that it worked, and it worked because individual Reservists were able to decide when they could afford to give up time away from their primary career; the career which pays the mortgage. The Regular Army has a tendency to think about capability in terms of formed bodies, which creates the scale required for training, and allows cohesive teams to be built.  Taking individuals (individual augmentees) who have not gone through a full and uniform training pipeline seems time consuming, which is therefore more difficult when time is so scarce.  

The (probably Regular) CO of Reserve Units normally structure their unit training around the traditional framework of an Annual Camp as it is the easiest option to generate training at scale and encourage unit cohesion. Unit cohesion has an intangible quality and is placed by most Commanders ay a premium over the utilisation of a limited number of Reserve Service Days to support the Regular Army. This, disinterest in a drip feed of reservist manpower to match regular demand is in part due to there being no incentive for Reserve CO’s to begin working in this way.

These ways of working currently leave the Reservist with something of an identity crisis – ‘Who am I – an individual augmentee or the member of a unit’? Reservists are keen to serve alongside Regular colleagues, but for obvious reason has to be around the constraints of their main job. They are relentlessly told to show (Reserve) career progression and profile growth so need to be a regular attender including Annual Camps, to receive a good report. Yet, limited by the constraints that holding down a primary career impose. Life would be much easier if there was a variety of training opportunities for Reservists to choose from.

Solutions

Change the CO’s Incentives

Linking a CO’s annual report grade to the amount of time their Reservists spend training alongside Regular peers could radically change behaviours. The CO would be less Commander and more Head of Business Development, using their Regular network to find training opportunities for their Reservists. Unit cohesion would become a distant second to support to the Regular Army. When money is tight it seems right that it goes towards Regular support and it would probably be more satisfying for the Reservist. A supported Regular unit might need their more numerous qualified soldiers to support Reservists with particularly onerous pretraining requirements on weekends. Unpopular as this might be, it is much easier for a Regular soldier to be granted time-offin-lieu than for a Reservist to take additional holiday days which are generally fixed to the working week.    

Use Technology to Advertise Opportunities

Reservists are forced to find training opportunities with Regular personnel through unit middle men. This can be glacially slow and inconsistent affecting their ability to plan time off with their main employer. Providing a booking portal for all training opportunities across the Army that looks up to six months in advance would be a huge leap forward for both Regular and Reserve. Modern Technology has made booking most things instant and there is no reason for the Army not to have a similar system. The Regular ‘customer’ could advertise opportunities and include pre training requirements. Once a Reservists registers an interest, their unit would automatically be notified and then have up to half a year to meet these requirements.

Extend Attachments

Regular soldiers prefer Reserve support to be for a medium (4-6 weeks) or long (6 months to a year) attachment as opposed to a short (2 week) one. Instead of the current 2 weeks every training year, a Reservist could be able to do 4-6 weeks every 2-3 years (if possible around their first career). This might tempt Reservists into medium length training or support which works better for the supported unit. Changes to the Annual Continuous Training policy would be needed to make it attractive.

Matching – Pay and Conditions and Supply and Demand

Concerns around Reservists becoming the Army’s gig economy are understandable but not insurmountable. The wider debate focuses on how pay and conditions compare to full time workers. To allay this, Regular and Reserve need to be on broadly the same terms of service. A conversation with any astute Private Soldier on an overseas training exercise will tell you that they know they are working (by the hour), for less than the minimum wage, and Reservists know this is true on training weekends. The Army will continue to be paid by the day not the hour so apples are being compared to apples. However a Regular Soldier is paid 7 days pay for a (usually) 5 day week. A Reservist is paid an additional day for every 10 days worked placing them at a financial disadvantage. Differences in medical, dental and pension provision (when looked at on a days served basis) would also need addressing.

Businesses are data rich and can, with a good deal of accuracy, predict labour demand and thus when they could release Reservists easily to train or support their Regular peers. The Army is not data driven in the same way and so doesn’t understand or have confidence in business. There is also an institutional mistrust of business, the assumption is that employee’s wellbeing and making a profit are mutually exclusive, which isn’t true. Matching low labour demand with being able to easily release Reservists, possibly for medium length attachments makes sense and everyone, including the Army wins. Assuming that the Reservist volunteered (which they would have to) then they would clearly not be exploited. Any concerns that the Army’s has that business is pushing Reservists out the door to save money in quiet periods (aside from that it would be illegal) are exaggerated.

Making Reservists More Reliable

Finally, Reservists need to work hard to shake the perception of unreliability. They must realise a commitment to train is exactly that and once made time and money is invested and there is an expectation for them to show. When they don’t the reputation of all Reservists suffer. Civilian companies penalise those that ‘don’t call, don’t show’. A similar system should be put in place for Reservists whereby a ‘no call no shows’ affect their eligibility for bounty.

When I didn’t have a job recently I turned to my unit and asked if there were opportunities to support the Regular Army. I worked on three separate projects of 8, 4 and 6 weeks in duration. I am lucky. As a former Regular officer I receive some cachet which makes meeasier to sell to Regulars who may be sceptical ofReservists competency. I live in a city with plenty of opportunities to support the military in a meaningful way. I am a member of a unit which (I believe) has an excellent reputation and which (I know) is packed with bright, high achievers. During interviews with civilian companies the fact that I was ‘working’ whilst job hunting was seen as a positive. I didn’t feel that the Army was exploiting me. If anything it was the reverse. Finally, in helped financially so it was win win.

If the Army, led by its Reserve Unit Commanding Officers makes better use of Reservists, use technology and provide the right catered individual support to meet pre training requirements the individual Reservist and the Army will benefit.

Given how sparse manning currently is, not making use of the Reserves in support of Regular training seems wasteful in such austere times.


The views expressed within individual posts and media are those of the author and do not reflect any official position or that of the author’s employees or employer. Concerns regarding content should be addressed to the wavellroom through the contact form

Chris D

British Army Reserves

Chris has 16 years of leadership experience, in both the Regular Army and the Army Reserve. He has attended Staff College and commanded a Sub Unit.

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7 comments

Tom March 6, 2018 at 11:15

Some good ideas and alternative approaches – rare to see in the reservist debate and always very welcome.
The payment and employment protection angles do need some further exploring – it all boils down to the money – for the Regular army to get the outstanding deal they get for the numbers (25% of army numbers at an annual RSD budget @£250m with much lower infrastructure and other costs) someone else (the reservist, their family or employer) has to foot a bill.

Not every reservist has a mortgage supporting job that allows a 4-6 week period away – practically most employees only get 20 days leave a year, with only a few public sector jobs giving additional leave days for reservists.
Someone who chooses a 4 week stint in BATUS over their family holiday is a rare bird.

Hence why weekends and evenings have been the logical free time opportunity for routine training, with some leave saved for time worthy events.
Regular units able to accommodate an individual reservist’s availability tend to reap more reward; they get a motivated individual to fill some gaps, who then becomes an ambassador for further volunteers.

For private sector to consider the same, it needs more than money – for example any day rate contractor will be taking a financial hit to attend, so the experience and the value of the activity is key.

A significant sickener for a Reservist is the discrimination and disadvantage they can face at work – it is still not illegal to refuse to employ reservists, or hold their service against their professional advancement. Only when mobilised do significant protections kick in.

There is much cheap chat from Regulars about compulsion to attend for volunteers, but very little about compulsion to release for training for employers.

Many do not know this battle was fought and lost after FR2020 and so incentivisation, intelligent management and good leadership remain the foundation of reservist motivation and attendance – something that really tests what many Regulars preach, but few get to practice.

Reply
Chris March 6, 2018 at 17:25

Tom – Thanks for the views.

Some businesses know when their periods of low demand are. For example I can say confidently that Business to Customer (B2C) retail businesses are likely to be much quieter post than pre xmas. This could offer a win (Reservists) win (Business) win (Army). The Reservist volunteers to head out for a medium length attachment giving them a varied working year – imagine being able to spend the first four weeks of the year on exercise in Belize or Kenya. The employer pays the Reservist for only 2 weeks removing some of their excess capacity, saving them some money and gaining the intangible benefits of Army training. The Army gets some additional manpower when it works for the employer and Reservist.

You mention compelling employers to release Reservists for training. This is a difficult one. This is why I suggest some form of financial benefit to the business described below. If you combine a tangible benefit with the intangible that most are familiar with then you present employers with a the compelling argument to talk about.

In terms of Reservists being able to take a medium (4-6 week) some large employers already offer support. Tesco, one of the UKs largest employers offers their Reservists 15 days for training (https://cdn.ourtesco.com/2015/12/Volunteer-Reserve-Forces-and-Veterans-Final-v21.pdf). A Reservist would need to use 5 days of their paid leave to achieve a 4 week attachment. 15 paid days from Tesco plus 5 days allows for a 20 working days medium length attachment. All of the civilian roles I have had (and most of my civilian friends have had) offer 25 days leave as opposed to 20.

Anecdotally, Deloitte (consulting) offers employees a month off (unpaid) per year so a person could choose to use this for Reserve service and plan it for the end of a consulting project. Giving the Reservist the opportunity the choose whether they want to do this every year or by adjusting the Reserve policy for Bounty increases flexibility,

Reservist are in some way a customer of the experience that they are offered. Although unpopular to say this is true. Reserve service is something that they do their spare time in addition to a normal job and so they seek interesting, focused, relevant challenging training. A continued pattern of this will entice them to attend more. I find weekly training (post Phase 1 and 2) so fragmented as to be broadly ineffective. I would use weekly training for MATTs, Planning/Prep, Admin, and Phys (in that order). This would free up time for good interesting training on weekends and again create that more compelling reason to attend weekends.

Reply
Tom March 6, 2018 at 11:15

Some good ideas and alternative approaches – rare to see in the reservist debate and always very welcome.
The payment and employment protection angles do need some further exploring – it all boils down to the money – for the Regular army to get the outstanding deal they get for the numbers (25% of army numbers at an annual RSD budget @£250m with much lower infrastructure and other costs) someone else (the reservist, their family or employer) has to foot a bill.

Not every reservist has a mortgage supporting job that allows a 4-6 week period away – practically most employees only get 20 days leave a year, with only a few public sector jobs giving additional leave days for reservists.
Someone who chooses a 4 week stint in BATUS over their family holiday is a rare bird.

Hence why weekends and evenings have been the logical free time opportunity for routine training, with some leave saved for time worthy events.
Regular units able to accommodate an individual reservist’s availability tend to reap more reward; they get a motivated individual to fill some gaps, who then becomes an ambassador for further volunteers.

For private sector to consider the same, it needs more than money – for example any day rate contractor will be taking a financial hit to attend, so the experience and the value of the activity is key.

A significant sickener for a Reservist is the discrimination and disadvantage they can face at work – it is still not illegal to refuse to employ reservists, or hold their service against their professional advancement. Only when mobilised do significant protections kick in.

There is much cheap chat from Regulars about compulsion to attend for volunteers, but very little about compulsion to release for training for employers.

Many do not know this battle was fought and lost after FR2020 and so incentivisation, intelligent management and good leadership remain the foundation of reservist motivation and attendance – something that really tests what many Regulars preach, but few get to practice.

Reply
Chris March 6, 2018 at 17:25

Tom – Thanks for the views.

Some businesses know when their periods of low demand are. For example I can say confidently that Business to Customer (B2C) retail businesses are likely to be much quieter post than pre xmas. This could offer a win (Reservists) win (Business) win (Army). The Reservist volunteers to head out for a medium length attachment giving them a varied working year – imagine being able to spend the first four weeks of the year on exercise in Belize or Kenya. The employer pays the Reservist for only 2 weeks removing some of their excess capacity, saving them some money and gaining the intangible benefits of Army training. The Army gets some additional manpower when it works for the employer and Reservist.

You mention compelling employers to release Reservists for training. This is a difficult one. This is why I suggest some form of financial benefit to the business described below. If you combine a tangible benefit with the intangible that most are familiar with then you present employers with a the compelling argument to talk about.

In terms of Reservists being able to take a medium (4-6 week) some large employers already offer support. Tesco, one of the UKs largest employers offers their Reservists 15 days for training (https://cdn.ourtesco.com/2015/12/Volunteer-Reserve-Forces-and-Veterans-Final-v21.pdf). A Reservist would need to use 5 days of their paid leave to achieve a 4 week attachment. 15 paid days from Tesco plus 5 days allows for a 20 working days medium length attachment. All of the civilian roles I have had (and most of my civilian friends have had) offer 25 days leave as opposed to 20.

Anecdotally, Deloitte (consulting) offers employees a month off (unpaid) per year so a person could choose to use this for Reserve service and plan it for the end of a consulting project. Giving the Reservist the opportunity the choose whether they want to do this every year or by adjusting the Reserve policy for Bounty increases flexibility,

Reservist are in some way a customer of the experience that they are offered. Although unpopular to say this is true. Reserve service is something that they do their spare time in addition to a normal job and so they seek interesting, focused, relevant challenging training. A continued pattern of this will entice them to attend more. I find weekly training (post Phase 1 and 2) so fragmented as to be broadly ineffective. I would use weekly training for MATTs, Planning/Prep, Admin, and Phys (in that order). This would free up time for good interesting training on weekends and again create that more compelling reason to attend weekends.

Reply
Tom March 6, 2018 at 20:55

As you correctly highlighted, much of this is in the hands of Unit COs, as the knowledge of what industrial sectors and individuals leave allowances are really sits at unit / sub unit.
Certainly no working central database of reservist skills or availability is acheivable.

There is already a reasonable measure of Unit CO effectiveness out there – RSD overspend and Manning figures. If more money is made available, numbers go up in good units. However trimming reservist resources and budget has been an option of first resort for Andover too many times.

There are a number of other hurdles, mostly on the Regular Army side that need overcoming.

Firstly, which Bde an AR unit sits in currently governs which OTXs are available and what training will be funded. Sending reservists on training that doesn’t support their war role only works if it is accepted that the whole AR becomes generic BCRs. In some roles, SQEP requirements nix that.

Secondly, aligning AR and Regular training years would be helpful. For obvious financial/legal reasons the Reservist bounty is tied to financial year end. Lots of OTXs sit elsewhere and planning/committing to them is a much longer term commitment. A disconnect between Regular and reserve Training also is hideously financially inefficient.

Thirdly, there is already a pretty good Reservist communication channel called Defence Connect on which lots of advertising of roles and opportunities already takes place.
If the Regular CoC engaged on it/looked outside the DII/MODNET silo (AR access to both is very limited) then that would be excellent.

There is however one enormous shibboleth to be slain: the One Army Concept that has been chased after by senior leadership since the 70s.
It keeps on being proved defunct at the primary legislation level, the reservist/job/personal level and in ongoing discrimination against reservists, yet it seems to be seen as the only way Andover can conceive working with the AR.

It has taken you 16 years and leaving the army to realise that the AR needs different management and approaches than Regulars (who needs an obligatory career path for the hobby that doesn’t pay the mortgage and if the training isn’t value for time, one finds something better to do anyway?).
What hope for meaningful useful change in the next 2-3 years?

Reply
Lesley Kelly April 6, 2018 at 14:33

Chris and Tom – if you would like an opportunity to discuss these issues with many of the senior people responsible for Reserves Policy at the MOD, please book a place at our free event taking place at RUSI on 27 June (am). Information here: .https://www.future-reserves-research.ac.uk/events/
(Future Reserves Research Programme)

Reply
Rohan Wilson June 20, 2018 at 09:50

Lesley-
The whole system of part-time, limited trained (2 weeks and weekends), is totally floored. You would not let a nurse look after your child, with a couple of two week blocks of training, instead of 12 weeks? But this is what the current reserve system.

Nations with conscription, have a period of full time service, followed by time in the reserves. Israel is the classic example. A reservist is “a regular on 10 months leave a year”. Australia had a brigade of “Ready Reserve”, back in the ’90s, where soldiers served 12 months full time, completed all the standard “regular” events (recruit, corps, company and unit training), and then four years as a reservist. It was cut due to party politics. The Army Magazine on its downfall stated, the “DS” (directing staff) solution would have been to have ALL reservists, ready reserve!

For British Army, a “Ready-Reserve” system for all reservists would solve many of the issues raised above. Many of the reserve age group are in university or further education, and take a “gap-year” following school. (including the Royal Princes). For those in the work force, finding a replacement for 12 months is much easier for employers.

From a training prospective, reservists rarely master a skill. They have minimal exposure, and near zero practice, As most military skills are perishable, reservists effectively need total retraining for combat deployment. A Ready Reservist on the other hand is fully trained, battalion exercised, field fit, administratively, medical and dentally ready. No different from any other BA soldier after 12 months.

Money spent ineffectively training part-time could be redirected into expanding Phase 1 and 2 places within current regular training units. Intakes for the reserve would be limited to two intakes per year, creating a clear “cohort” cycle for reserve units. Six months in initial training followed by six months in newly created full time reserve units. Specialist units which all NCO and above are held by experienced regular soldiers. Such units would act as training grounds for the new “specialist” infantry role.

A full time four company specialist infantry battalion can train eight companies of reserve soldiers per year. Assuming a four year part-time period, two full-time specialist infantry battalions could support all 16 current part-time Reserve infantry battalions. If BA requires a reserve battalion to deploy quickly, it would be created by reserve soldiers “volunteering” to serve a second year full time, in a composite battalion.

With all reservists fully trained on starting their part time service, the very restricted time available, is now focused totally on maintaining already mastered and practiced skills, Weekends are very time ineffective. A day is lost with issuing, travelling to and from ranges and de-issuing. It would be better to consolidate 3 weekend into another weeks training, create 6 effective days and one lost day.

This breaks the century old a “fortnight” a year mentality. 12 months is to long between major exercise to maintain perishing skills. With an extra week, soldiers would exercise for week at company level every 6 months. Every summer this would be immediately followed by the annual battalion exercise. These exercises must be compulsory, supported by strong laws (for both reservist and employer). With simulation training, a good proportion of weekend training can be move to weeknight training (indoor ranges, medical simulation, etc). The remaining weekends (about six per year) focus on range and maintaining fitness.

Reply

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