What a change this is

The Army and Capita have introduced some “significant changes” in the last year, but none have resulted in enough soldiers being recruited, according to the NAO.

The report found that it took up to 321 days for new recruits to go from starting an application to beginning basic training, and that many drop out of the process while waiting

Used to be you drank the free beer, signed up and were marched away with the hangover. Grab ’em as soon as they say yes that is.

OK, we might want a bit more of a consistent desire rather than a transient one these days. But still, nearly a year?

Others around here know much more about this than I. So, what’s the basic problem here? Is it Crapita? Or is something deeper wrong?

44 thoughts on “What a change this is”

  1. Crapita wont be helping, but the key problem is that the MoD has more civilians than soldiers. More diversity advisors and other make work muppets than people at the sharp end.

  2. What the Prole said. However that merely explains a large chunk – not all, but a very large chunk – of the dropout rate.

    It has nothing to do with the 321 days delay.

    I also suspect that there may be an impact of the sharply reduced size of the Army. You won’t want to run a basic training course of much less than, say, a company strength (3 platoons, around 100 recruits in total).

    Halve the size of the Army, and your courses are going to be half as frequent. Worse still, I suspect it is hard to avoid the various arms running their basic courses separately. No point putting Signals/REME/Engineers/Artillery recruits through basic training then have them sitting uselessly and not posted to their regiment because they haven’t done the minimum special-to-arms training.

  3. That’s HR for you.

    I suggested two people to do a job share for a position back in early August since both want to work part time and they are very capable young engineers. I went on leave in September, came back, nothing had happened except they’d advertised the position. HR then sent through a list of unsuitable candidates (couple good quality, but not ready) plus one of job share options. I still insisted on my preferred option, demanding they contact the other person (she hadn’t seen the ad). Eventually, we got there and they’ll start in January. They could have started beginning of October and been a great help with major projects if HR thought that they were there to provide a service rather than being a law unto themselves. Instead, I’ve been working my arse off over weekends and will do so over Christmas in order to meet year end deadlines.

  4. Might the delay also be connected to the medical? Do some fail the medical the first time round, but are told to get fitter and try again?

    The delay is “starting an application to beginning basic training”, so if that still counts as the same application, it could make it a long process (and 321 days was the longest they’d found, not an average).

  5. Just follow the example of our betters in the Conservative Party
    and pay the max for top-notch management expertise.Since the post Thacherite extremists got shot of all the Macmilllanite compromises with socialism , full employment, new towns , social housing, a motorway network, all that you’ve never had it so good nonsense, the country has been revolutionised by true Conservatism and the sense of security it brings. Now we must stand on our own two feet and Wrexit our treaty obligations.

  6. The Pedant-General said:
    “You won’t want to run a basic training course of much less than, say, a company strength (3 platoons, around 100 recruits in total).”

    Surely the numbers are still high enough for that not to be a problem? Wikipedia says that the British Army’s annual recruitment target is 25,000, which would give you 250 cohorts of 100 per year.

    The Wikipedia figure does seem much too high (total Army numbers are, what, around 100,000, including reserves, so that’s suggesting an average length of service of only 4 years), but even if they’re only needing a fifth of that, that’s still enough to start a course for 100 recruits every week.

    Would be interesting to know what the average was. The longest they’ve found was 321 days, but was that an outlier with specific reasons (as you say, it might be slower for specialists)?

  7. Could be something to do with the changes in recruitment ads.
    Showing a group of soldiers out for a walk, who stop so Abdul Akalaka can have a pray to Allah, stopping incoming radio comms so he isn’t disturbed. Who wants to join that? As if anyone needs a clearer signal that TPTB want to bow down in front of Islam…

    Show a load of lads having a good time in a pub together, laughing and chatting about their latest exercise, cut with shots of soldiers doing soldiery things (tanks moving in concert with infantry, shooting, jumping out of planes, explosions, full auto machine gun fire, etc).
    Not saying it would solve the recruitment problems, but it would be a start…

  8. More diversity advisors and other make work muppets than people at the sharp end.

    I hate to be Sir Bufton, but this does indeed seem to be the case although the orifice class isn’t any better. I was saddened to talk to an Army officer, not long ago, who was proudly bumming up the Army’s enlightened inclusiveness towards wimmins, Moslems, and The Gays. He was proud of the “crying soldier” adverts too.

    He even described one NCO – who had announced his gayness relatively late in life and now works as some sort of professional LGBT advocate in uniform – as “a hero”. (The heroism or otherwise of his abandoned wife and children didn’t come up.) VC’s for bravely undergoing sex change operations can’t be far off.

    It’s now a social justice converged organisation and therefore beyond saving. Which is probably for the best, because when was the last time the armed forces were deployed to a conflict that was actually in Britain’s interests, as opposed to making the world a less stable and secure place?

    The Falklands? Gulf War 1, mibbe? NornIron? All of our more recent wars have been catastrophic, from our unprovoked attack on Yugoslavia to create a Moslem gangster state on European soil to our unprovoked attack on Libya to create a Moslem gangster state on African soil. The Foreign Office has been trying to create a – you guessed it – Moslem Gangster State on Syrian soil too, and only President Obama’s tepidness towards more Middle East wars saved us from getting up to our eyeballs in that quagmire.

    Perennial stopped clock and sometime feline impersonator George Galloway is right about our military misadventures. Probably better off just abolishing the Army, Navy and RAF and reforming the TA as a kind of militia.

  9. Chernyy – reminds me of a story from NornIron, about a couple of IRA men who joined up and not long after absconded with a load of weapons. I’m sure the thought has crossed Abdul’s mind.

  10. I’ve no idea about regular recruitment but there are significant issues with the medical process. There is something in the typically poorly written contract that incentivises Crapita to just bounce anybody with even the slightest hint of a medical problem – I’ve heard stories about people who had one-off incidents in childhood with no repeat pathology* – being told they are permanently unfit to join, and then having to traipse around (at their own expense) for full Army medical boards.

    On the other hand, and much to my surprise (eyesight getting worse, 3 out of four limbs somewhat less than perfect and a couple of general getting-old conditions for which I take {I had written “which require” but that’s probably inaccurate} daily medication), I’ve recently been through a medical and been told that I’m still fit to deploy to theatre.

    as you say, it might be slower for specialists

    I’m not sure whether the Int Corps, for example, insist on some of the clearance steps being completed before joining as a soldier**.

    * There are also conditions that do require proper examination – such as childhood asthma which disappeared around puberty.

    ** Obviously, or possibly not if you aren’t Army – the RN and crabs do this differently, officers aren’t confirmed in their cap-badge until relatively late in their time at Sandhurst, so even if you are sponsored to Sandhurst by the Int Corps, they still have time to fail you your DV once you are in!

  11. What Chernyy and Steve said too.

    And let’s not forget the chilling factor of potentially being chased by scummy shysters in your dotage for ‘crimes’ committed against terrorists.

  12. VC’s for bravely undergoing sex change operations can’t be far off.

    GCs, surely – not in the face of the enemy?

    Although I’d probably consider somebody who was planning to cut my penis off ‘an enemy’?

  13. Steve said:
    “Probably better off just abolishing the Army, Navy and RAF and reforming the TA as a kind of militia.”

    I’d probably keep a navy (gives us a bit of time to get the militia together), but yes, I agree. A standing army is a dodgy modern (and foreign) idea.

  14. Oh, and back to the medical thing – they use (or so I have been told – my recruiting medical was over 3 decades ago) the silly BMI obesity thing that catches out completely fit rugby forwards and weightlifters.

  15. Hi Tim

    I have a mate who does reserve officering. It’s Crapita. They do the entire process using their usual box ticking style, so they prevent anyone doing multiple stages simultaneously – thus avoiding the cost of a person failing at the end for something that should have been detected early, but at the cost of insane delays.

  16. “full employment, new towns , social housing, a motorway network”

    Wow, DBCR goes into full-on fantasy mode. I guess the nurses don’t allow him access to any media and he relies on the sage of Ely for information

  17. Richard

    “I’d probably keep a navy…”

    Spot on.

    We never used to do that continental Standing Army thing; the Royal Navy was what kept Britannia free. Dump the RAF, revert to militias if people really want the ‘local connection’, and put all the saved money into ships, the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Marines.

  18. One issue of just how badly executed this entire deal was… when the Army placed the contract, they entirely forgot to include recruitment for the Territorial Army (now Army Reserve) which wasn’t covered. To add to the entertainment, around that point the Army head shed decided to increase the size of the Reserve by 20,000 troops, despite there being no means in place to recruit them.

    But then, to quote a friend of mine on the subject:

    Remind us, who decided that outsourcing recruitment was A Good Idea? Who wrote the specifications for the contract? Who selected the winning bid? Who had a flap when they realised that they’d completely forgotten to include the Reserves in the specification? Who then got a nice Directorship with the winning bidder?

    Hint: It wasn’t politicians. Soldiers all.

    It was meant to be a “partnership” between the MOD and Capita, but the Army failed to deliver the IT infrastructure and the information defined. Just for once, it’s not all Capita’s fault.

    And in classic economics style, incentives matter: if you pay for signups, and more for completions, but there are penalties for “recruits entering system who crash out for medical reasons”, then the recruiter will cast the net wide for recruits, but then be stringent in ensuring nobody goes through with medical issues. If the contract wasn’t wargamed properly to see “how could this be exploited”, don’t be surprised when the other party invests the effort you didn’t bother with and takes full advantage of your incompetence.

    If you write a crap contract and don’t fulfil your end of it, you’ll get a poor result – this has only been one of the top lessons of every review of What Defence Gets Wrong for the last, oh, forty years at least.

    On the wider point of military versus civilians… the numbers for “civilians” include such fluffy bunnies as Defence Intelligence, the MOD Guard Service, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and the like, before you get into counting diversity advisors and five-a-day co-ordinators.

    More seriously, the big push for some time has been to civilianise jobs where possible: use a civilian rather than a servicebeing to (for instance) run the Registry and look after the Confidential Books Office at a shore establishment, since (a) they’ll be there longer rather than changing over every couple of years, (b) they cost half the salary and a quarter of the capitation.

    The downside we’re experiencing of this, is that it means there’s nowhere to put service people between courses and deployments: not too bad for the Army when your Cavalry regiment is waiting in barracks at ninety days’ notice to move to repel the Roundheads from Parliament, but disastrous for the Navy when people are doing back-to-back deployments afloat. Folk decide to sign off, gaps open, other people get grabbed at short notice to fill the post (yes, you were promised you’d get some time with your family, but after your fourth nine-month deployment in five years we promise you a nice stable shore job afterwards and this time we really mean it… until the next gap appears and you get grabbed for that too… please tell me you aren’t taking the seven-clicks-to-freedom too? Come baaaaack!)

    The other downside is that while some civilian jobs in MOD may be cosy sinecures (wish someone would point them out and let me apply…), others are based on the idea of putting technical and contractual responsibility on civil servants who have qualifications and experience, rather than military personnel who’ll bluff and cuff it for a two-year tour to tick the box on their promotion matrix.

    However, that works if you actually recruit and retain experienced and qualified people: the toxic combination of a confident SO2 desk officer now “doing” project management for a couple of years before getting back to “proper soldiering”, whose “contract expert” is a twentysomething humanities graduate realising that coming to work at Abbey Wood was a huge mistake, and with the engineering oversight being gapped or outsourced to industry (marking their own homework) because you won’t get much experience or qualification for a MOD C2’s salary (£31k in Bristol, no promotion, no progression, increasing by no more than 1% a year) is the root of a lot of problems.

    (Of course you can sidestep your problem to an extent by hiring consultants. I wouldn’t know anything about that…)

    The idea that there’s a huge raft of highly-paid civilians sitting around in MOD is pernicious but not exactly backed by fact: from 2010 to 2017 the numbers have dropped by 35% (85k to 55k) and the easy fat’s been cut. Another cut of 30% has been threatened for a couple of years, but the elusive sinecure non-jobs still prove elusive.

    A larger issue is that it’s simply not possible to recruit qualified mid-career professionals for the deal on offer, which opens huge gaps in setting up, running and assessing procurement projects. (For one example, have a look at the reviews of the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory on Glassdoor…)

    This is pretty well known: the issue of “this person had the skills and experience we need, but they left for twice the money elsewhere…” is incessant. It’s not a case of a generic Civil Service pay rise, but it does need a move away from nationwide, grade-based salaries to matching pay to requirement. Or, don’t, and spend the money on failed projects and triples all round for Capita’s new director…

    (Not that fixing it would currently be a good idea from my selfish point of view, but I do have some patriotic instincts…)

  19. Jason Lynch said:
    “If you write a crap contract and don’t fulfil your end of it, you’ll get a poor result – this has only been one of the top lessons of every review of What Defence Gets Wrong for the last, oh, forty years at least.”

    You could change “Defence” to “government” and that would still be pretty much correct.

    Thank you; interesting to see how things go wrong. The one about changing all the base jobs to civilians, but then having nothing to use the military people for between deployments, is particularly interesting.

  20. @Richard & Jason
    You could change “government” to “everyone involved in outsourcing” and remain at least 90% correct. I’ve seen exactly the same mistakes in purely commercial arrangements. Part of the problem is that the people on the business/government side are involved in such negotiations perhaps once or twice during their career (government and really massive commercial concerns could presumably run dedicated specialist teams of their own – but they don’t), while the outsourcerers are doing this all day, every day.

    They will often low ball their bid, knowing that the contract, however detailed, can never precisely specify everything that needs to be done (e.g. recruit reservists!) and anyway business needs change rapidly. Then it becomes “this is not covered by our contractual agreements and will therefore be chargeable at our (outrageous) daily rate”.

  21. Since the principal purpose of the armed forces these days seems to be to allow us to make unprovoked attacks on countries where we have no vital interests, does it matter?

    I mean, nobody expects the armed forces actually to defend us, do they?

  22. Bloke in North Dorset


    A good friend spent a few years at MoD Main Building as a Group Capt and reckoned they had similar problems with civil servants as with the military, in that the good ones needed to be moved on regularly for their own promotion matrix. It’s partly why a lot of positions are (we’re?) filled by retired senior officers, they aren’t chasing a career, but they are bed blockers.

    I took a 70 year old retired officer sailing last year and he was still doing 2 days a week at Wilton.

    “And let’s not forget the chilling factor of potentially being chased by scummy shysters in your dotage for ‘crimes’ committed against terrorists.”

    A truly egregious example in a long line of our military being badly treated. You can hear Brian talk about the experience here and his book Double Crossed is due out in the New Year. He’s quite an inspirational guy, but understandably bitter when you hear the full story.

    What they’re doing with NI historical “crimes” is equally bad.

    “I’d probably keep a navy (gives us a bit of time to get the militia together), but yes, I agree. A standing army is a dodgy modern (and foreign) idea.”

    British governements, especially Labour ones, have always liked to keep the Army down or out. Having most of them in Germany, Cyprus and other far away places was acceptable, being on politicians door stops isn’t.

  23. If it takes almost a year to go from making an enquiry to setting foot in your first army barracks for basic training then only the most dedicated or desperate will still be interested.

    Anyone else will have found something else to do or got utterly disillusioned with the whole process.

  24. About a year sounds right – at least it was in the early 90’s in the US.

    Over here, the vast majority are signing up while still finishing their last year of high school – they’re 17. The services us what is called a ‘delayed entry program’ where the kid (and his parents) sign on to join and then it may be several months (and pretty much always after they’ve turned 18) later that they’re scheduled to report for basic. In the interim they typically report to the recruiter’s office weekly for some ‘training’ (light stuff – a little on naval customs, some light marching practice to get them ahead and a bit of socializing) in the interim to keep them interested and invested.

    Now, if your guys are just sitting there waiting for a report date – yeah, they’re going to wander off in the meantime.

  25. Recusant- we need an Air Defence and Sea Defence capability in the modern era. Whether that involves a RAF type service is arguable but I would suggest that Naval officers are more likely to neglect an Air Service than their ships so for history and sensible management I would keep the RAF and RN. The army is, since the end of the Cold War, the least important of the three services for British defence.

  26. Hiring Capita is a symptom of arseholes in charge. Private or public sector. Smart people keep them and all the other large consultancies a long fucking way from their company.

    Unless you can tap into something off-the-shelf, or a product from a company that’s already 95% of what you want and they can change it, build it in-house. There is no benefit to the alternative. You’re still going to need the same number of and type of bodies. But it’s also a more fluid process and relationship. Someone in HR can ask a programmer to change some code and he does it. No writing ironclad specifications, contracts or POs. Get the requirements roughly right, he builds it, then shows it and maybe tweaks it a little further. Over time the programmer gets to know the business and the people. You don’t have to explain about the types of shops or types of calls on a mobile phone. He knows it.

    He’ll even question the business’ idea, suggest ways to do it easier. See, a consultancy won’t do that. They would rather you write your stupid idea into a PO, change it and have you change it again. Because that’s lots more billable hours (consultancy managers will even bollock programmers who do this).

  27. And listen, this stuff really isn’t *that* hard nowadays. Building business systems has actually become a lot easier because the hardware is so cheap that you don’t need programmers being as clever at reducing storage or improving performance.

    This is workflow/case management stuff. People do a thing, passed to someone else, they attach documents, approve things etc etc. No machine learning, I doubt there’s even much calculation. Just checking what’s recorded at each stage and someone has a proceed/fail at each.

  28. As one who was Born in Barracks, I have to remark here that, when it comes to actually fighting, the Navy is the bus service that gets the Army to the theatre and the Air Force provides overhead cover; it’s the PBI that does the job.

    There’s an interesting book, Lions Lead by Donkeys, in which the author proposes that the three services be broken up and reorganised into task forces made up of elements of land, sea and air.

    He also states the reason the Navy likes destroyers so much is because captains outnumber commands by ten to one and destroyers are cheap. Time for a cleanup of gold-braided dead wood.

  29. Steve,

    “It’s now a social justice converged organisation and therefore beyond saving. Which is probably for the best, because when was the last time the armed forces were deployed to a conflict that was actually in Britain’s interests, as opposed to making the world a less stable and secure place?”

    And the last time, the Falklands, despite all the money we spend, we had to borrow cruise liners to get troops down there.

    I honestly think most of the standing military is a waste of money. Long range missiles and nukes are a fine deterrent. Invade the UK, we do an extreme makeover on Dresden again. Because beyond that, we’re simply not prepared. You can’t wage a giant war with the stuff we get.

    You need designs of ships and planes that can be made on a production line so that you can make lots of them. You ditch whatever crap rifle we use for AK-47s because they’re a doddle to make and actually work. The ridiculous landmine ban will be dropped immediately.

    And you’re also going to need different soldiers. In proper wartime with Fritz looking at Dover through binoculars, and every woman eating powdered egg and being rather nervous about the possibility of getting gangraped by the Wehrmacht, people are going to take a different view of soldiers behaving badly. If they laugh at the gays or get into fights in bars, no-one is going to care. You’re going to want the sort of people who might go a bit Abu Ghraib on the Afrika Corps, not a load of boy scouts.

  30. “Scrap the army”

    On a good day, I might see the argument purely in terms of defence of the islands, but if we still believe in our membership and commitment to NATO and the west / anglosphere, and on the basis we never quite know what might be around the corner, scrapping (when it comes to defence) is the exact opposite to any approach I would take.

    I would suggest that 2% of GDP and falling is not in the right direction.

  31. Steve – the armed forces are ONLY deployed to serve Britain’s interests.
    You may not agree with the reason for deployment, the politicians in charge decide and the instructions are passed on to the relevant officers to deploy.
    That’s how modern militaries work in the West. Civilians (ie politicians) decide what to do with the armed forces.

  32. @BoM4 re outsourcing

    Does this not also depend on what capacity is available internally? It might not be a big/hard project in IT terms but if you haven’t got the capabilities in house for it, you’re not used to managing that scale of project, you don’t want to take lots of staff on your books for the building phase, etc, I can see why “just contract someone else to do it who does this stuff for a living” is tempting. Even if less wise than building one’s own capacity up.

  33. MBE,

    Absolutely right if, for instance, you’re a small business. I’ve helped people tweak their web sites. They run a thing in WordPress, need a javascript calculator for it, and we drop it in. They never call me again.

    But if you need custom software and you’re a large organisation and your spend on that custom software is going to require half a dozen people for monitoring, general support and small enhancements (which would seem a bare minimum), there are no advantages to outsourcing that half a dozen people. Capita et al are still going to be employing that half a dozen people. Custom software isn’t a “scale” thing. It isn’t like buying paper clips and cars where you tap into someone else’s capacity.

    Regarding “not used to managing the scale of the project”, hire a project manager. If you don’t have the skills to hire a project manager, do you have the skills to hire an outsourcing firm? No, you don’t. You’re only trusting a large consultancy because of everyone else that hires them and the gloss, without realising that they’re rubbish (because no company will publicly tell anyone that they were disappointed). I know some very good consultancy companies, but I’ve never, not once, been impressed with a project done by a large consultancy. They’re technically weak, late on delivery, have low quality control and ongoing support is poor.

    And if you don’t want staff for the building phase, get your project manager to hire contractors for the building phase. They’ll be cheaper and generally more experienced than the people from the consultancy (sometimes, the consultancy just hire contractors).

  34. @BoM4

    Ta. The other thing is that getting this kind of provision right is absolutely mission critical for the military so the decision to outsource rather than make sure they can do it (and adapt it, as needs change) for themselves, seems to have been a distinctly risky one.

  35. It was never free beer. You got a “bounty” for signing up but they took most of it back to cover the costs and profits of the recruiters, including the beer.

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