COVID: How Has Coronavirus Affected Army Recruitment?

The British Army has achieved "close to 100%" of its recruitment target of personnel joining the service for the first time since 2012.

Until 2019/20, the headcount of personnel entering the Army had fallen short every year since an outsourcing contract with recruitment firm Capita was signed eight years ago, and for a decade before then.

Capita has been criticised in the past for its handling of recruitment for the service, with even the Army admitting "some bad mistakes and some errors" had been made.

Reflecting on the rare year of on-target Army recruitment, which came despite the national coronavirus lockdown, Colonel Nick MacKenzie told the BFBS Sitrep podcast: "We were almost at our target - the startup of COVID impacted upon our target just a little bit.

"We achieved close to 100% across all streams - so that's regular soldiers, reserves and officers."

The Ministry of Defence told the Defence Select Committee in July the Army had hit 96% of what was its 9,404 intake target, but added that the most successful campaign in years had been hindered by a “shortfall in basic training starts” due to COVID postponements in the final stages.

"We paused face-to-face recruiting," said Col MacKenzie.

"We continued it virtually."

The task of "nurturing" candidates through the process, which involves medical forms and conversations with recruitment officers, was shifted online, but the assessment centre stages were halted.

Basic training establishments had sent people home to learn virtually, while it took until May for the first group of soldiers to complete basic training since the coronavirus lockdown began.

Anonymous Army recruits (Picture: British Army).
Army recruitment has seen a backlog of candidates awaiting assessment during the COVID lockdown (Picture: British Army).

A build-up of candidates in what Army recruiters call "a hopper" had been waiting in the wings before assessment centres reopened – salvaging monthly targets.

"Applications were looking really strong, perhaps as a result of COVID, so in broad comparable terms [we have been] about 80% up on a similar time last year," said Col MacKenzie.

"Candidates were applying to join the Army, we were processing them through to a certain point.

"We'd already factored into our plan about loading people into the basic training regiments, so by the time we set them back up and running again ,we were still close to achieving our monthly targets."

To "clear the backlog", a two-and-a-half-day assessment process was reduced to around 24 hours.

Col MacKenzie added that the Army is "about 50% loaded" on numbers who have passed assessment and have been handed an offer to join the Regulars, which is on track for the current year's target of 9,867, with even greater success for officer training.

While Col MacKenzie claims a "fractious relationship" between the British Army and Capita was overcome with a "joint approach" to recruiting, he said the latest challenge for the pair would be to facilitate candidates who do not wish to travel during Government restrictions.

"We sent lots of young recruits home during lockdown and 98% of them, there or there abouts, came back to start their training.

"Those people coming back from lockdown into basic training, that we got pretty much all of them back, is a really positive thing."

New recruitment challenges continue to arrive at the door of the Army, seemingly at the same time as emerging threats, but the colonel believes "doing something for the greater good and with a bit of job security" could appeal to young people during a global crisis like coronavirus.

You can hear the programme live on Thursdays on BFBS Radio 2 at 16:30 (UK time) and at 18:30 (UK time) BFBS via DAB+ across the UK. 

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