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Recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces

There is a shortfall of 5,170 (2.8 per cent) trained Armed Forces personnel against the Ministry of Defence’s estimated requirements. Only the Army is within “manning balance”, and there are wider shortages of personnel in specific trade groups.

According to today’s report to Parliament, by head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn, there are particular challenges to manning levels in 88 specialist ‘pinch points’ – areas where there are insufficient trained personnel. These pinch points include doctors, nurses, engineers and bomb disposal experts.

The Department has achieved 98 per cent of its recruitment targets overall since 2000-2001. In 2005-06 it achieved 96 per cent of its target overall, including for over half of the pinch point trades surveyed by the National Audit Office. The Department has introduced a range of measures to improve recruitment.

The National Audit Office has also reported that the numbers of those leaving the Forces early have increased slightly in the last two years and that last year 9,200 personnel left early, although the Department considers that overall the long-term trend remains stable given historical levels of outflow. Of those surveyed by the National Audit Office who had recently left the Armed Forces, many had done so because of the impact of service on family life (49 per cent), while others reported the impact of too many deployments (28 per cent), the quality of the equipment (32 per cent), and a feeling of not being valued (33 per cent) as being important factors in their decision to leave. 9 per cent also said they had left because they had not been deployed enough.

Current levels of operational activity puts additional pressures on serving personnel in terms of hours worked, how often they are deployed and time spent away from families. We found that the Department’s guidelines on separated service were being exceeded by a significant number of personnel in the Army, where 14.5 per cent of the trained strength as at January 2006 had exceeded the guidelines at some point in the last 30 months.

The Ministry of Defence has introduced a number of financial retention incentives schemes and a range of other measures to improve manning in pinch point areas, aimed at retaining its most experienced personnel and alleviating some of the pressures in other groups.

On the basis of the limited evidence available, the National Audit Office concludes that retention measures appear to represent better value for money than recruitment, although both recruitment and retention are clearly important in maintaining the right profile of experience in the Armed Forces. The National Audit Office believes savings of £24 million could be made if planned retention levels were met. The report also estimates that it costs £74 million to retain 2,500 trained personnel against £189 million to recruit and provide initial training in basic military skills for the same number of new people.

"The Ministry of Defence is working hard to tackle the issues in recruitment and retention to ensure there are sufficient levels of personnel in the Armed Forces. But, given current levels of operational deployment, workloads on Service men and women in some areas are heavy." "Armed Forces personnel told us that the key reasons they were leaving early included the pressures on their family life. It is therefore vital that, in addition to the financial incentives offered, the Ministry of Defence maintains its focus on longer term measures."

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office

Notes for Editors

  1. Press notices and reports are available from the date of publication on the NAO website, which is at Hard copies can be obtained from The Stationery Office on 0845 702 3474.
  2. The Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir John Bourn, is the head of the National Audit Office which employs some 850 staff. He and the NAO are totally independent of Government. He certifies the accounts of all Government departments and a wide range of other public sector bodies; and he has statutory authority to report to Parliament on the economy, efficiency and effectiveness with which departments and other bodies have used their resources.
  3. "Manning Balance" is the prevailing trained strength requirement within a tolerance band of plus one per cent and minus two per cent to reflect routine structural and organisational changes within the Services.


PN: 57/06