Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Memorandum from the Institute of Career Guidance

  The following information has been submitted by members of the ICG in response to the following questions posted on the ICG website:

    —    Are young people interested in careers in the Armed Forces?

    —    Is interest increasing or decreasing? Why?

    —    Do you have any evidence (including case studies and anecdotes) that would assist the inquiry in their work?


Post 16 school leavers

  Last year 2007—we had five or six students from year 10 taking part in Army residential courses as part of work experience. This was similar to the previous year 2006. This year we have two applicants for work experience with the RNAS and one for the Army. From last year two are still actively pursuing army careers and one is considering it. In 2006 three students applied to join up—1or two were Students and their families are increasingly put off by the Iraq war, as they perceive there to be more danger/risk.

  Another hurdle is the number of students listed with asthma and therefore unable to apply to the armed services due to ill health.

Post 18 school leavers

  Slightly more interest this year in university sponsorships from the Armed Services particularly for medicine/nursing professions—two students at present intending to apply although competition is fierce.

  A Year 13 student passed the selection interview for the RAF this year but pulled out after the commitment time increased from 12 to 18 years.

  This increase may well be due to high cost of university qualifications and when students understand the long term commitment and what the package entails they may not prove so keen.


  There is a general consensus that, firstly the Armed Forces are less popular than they were. They think that this stems generally from the "macho" image, which is presented, especially from the Army, but also from the fact that schools promote them less because of a generally moral perspective about conflicts like Iraq or Afghanistan.

  In one sense the provision of information is impartial because they are still invited to Careers Conventions etc but the subjective and indirect message is much more moralistic, not necessarily from Careers Advisers but from Teachers and Parents. They are considerably more influential with the average plus because of the role that Connexions have been asked to play with emphasis on the hardest to help. It means that the emphasis currently is on staying in education to the age of 18 or beyond for average and above average clients. All employers with traditional Apprenticeship approaches to employment and training are missing out on this not just the Armed Forces.


  I have been a careers adviser in education for seven years in south Wales and it is my impression that interest in the armed forces has remained pretty steady—and has perhaps increased slightly in recent years. Some young people express an interest in year 10/11 but if they stay on to do A levels, the interest tends to wane.

  Many young people enter the forces because they want to be trained in a trade such as electrical work or motor mechanics and there are very few vacancies locally. Had they been able to find an apprenticeship, they would not have applied.


   From a Scottish Perspective there are may be two key areas to consider.

  1.  Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have brought it home to young people just how dangerous work in the armed services really can be.

  2.  In a Scottish level the decision to merge the infantry regiments in to one Regiment of Scotland has fundamentally weakened young people's connection to their local infantry regiment. Reducing for example the Black Watch with all of its history to the 3rd/ 4th/ 5th Royal regiment of Scotland (Black Watch) has taken away the romance, the local connections and disconnected local people.

  I interviewed a young Canadian man three or four years ago who had come to Scotland to join the Black Watch as his father and grandfather had all enlisted in this regiment in years gone by. I doubt if this young man from the Commonwealth would leave Ontario and his folks to join the 3rd/ 4th Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Scotland!

  The British Army as has the German army has always encouraged young people to fight alongside their friends and local people. US army sources have always said this is strength of the British Army and it is something that the US army has always envied without being able to reproduce.

  If the Army is able to reconnect with young people in Scotland by encouraging and celebrating attachment to local regiments it may see a pick up in recruitment.


  I can confidently say that young people are more interested in armed forces as career.

  Hence, the interest is highly increasing especially in the developed countries. You see some African youths joining armed forces without any body giving any courage or advise.


  In response to your query, I work in a school in a disadvantaged area of xxxxxxxxxx. I find a fair bit of interest in joining the Army with pupils I interview. Many have family tradition as a motive as they have parents or other relatives who have served, or are serving, in the Army. Many view the Army as an option to break the lack of other opportunities open to them due to expectations of poor academic qualifications. There is also an interest due to the Operation Youth Advantage scheme run in conjunction with the community police based in the school. This involves taking pupils who have or may be at risk of criminal activity for a week's Army training course to improve their attitude, confidence, team working skills etc. Many pupils I interview in relation to Army careers have been involved in this initiative and enjoyed the experience. The school also encourages participation in Army days and the Army Careers are always in attendance at parent information evenings/careers events in school.

  The main drawback for some applying directly to the Army can be criminality issues and they are encouraged to apply after completing courses such as Army Preparation under the Get Ready for Work training schemes for unemployed young people. Quite often young people who have participated on these programmes are inspired to join various branches of the Armed Services after completion.

  I feel therefore that interest in Army careers is about the same despite awareness of current conflicts such as Afghanistan and Iraq and the fact that a young ex-pupil of the school was recently killed in Iraq.


  In my experience as a school-based adviser the armed forces has increased in popularity recently. The interest seems to across the ability range with more able students favouring the RAF. The interest is mainly coming from boys although some girls are also showing an interest.

  The reasons for the increase in interest are difficult to say. Students usually give personal reasons, eg father/brother in the forces etc. I think that the TV advertising has had some impact and the higher profile of the forces in the Media due to the Iraq/Afghan conflicts. Having said this I have also come across clients who have dropped out of the Army recently. One client left because he felt unsuited to Army life. Another client was discharged after an incident involving drug use.

  I think that the Armed forces are accepting clients who are not ready to cope with the life style. The client who was discharged for drug use had serious behavioural problems at school and had spent most of year 11 in special provision for students with emotional and behavioural problems.


Q 1.   "Are YPs interested in the Armed Forces"?

  Yes. However most Young people (mainly Lads) want the Army and never think of the other services. Girls often take up activities while at school with the Army but it never seems to develop in to a career choice when leaving. Equally the Army is far more proactive by offering activity days for schools, Work experience places and getting involved in PSE such as mock interviews etc. The Army update their careers information each year and staff from the Army Careers regularly give updates to Connexions staff on what is happening. Simply they are more willing, more proactive and visionary than the other Armed Services. I have contacted both the Air Force and the Navy and both where unable to offer placements. Last year for the first time the Navy contacted me to ask if they could help in PSE by doing mock interviews for those YPs interested in the Armed Forces. However they offered it too late in the year and there was no time in the timetable.

Q 2.   "Is interest increasing or decreasing"?

  About the same numbers.

Q 3.   "Do you have any evidence"?

  See question one.

  Also I have grave concerns that the Army take YPs who should not be there and the Army recruitment techniques are questionable. Example there was as recently as 18 months to two years ago I had a YP who was Statemented for having specific Special Needs. The lad should in my opinion never have been taken on. He had lost two jobs because he was unable to cope with the work but the Army recruited him and he came to see me, proud in his uniform to tell me he was going to Iraq.

  I had another lad last year did the same. He was not LDD but he was naive, immature in character. He too was going off to Iraq.

  Neither of these lads should have been allowed to join and there should be a limit on taking YPs with limited ability. Some sort of test indicating ability to cope and understand what is expected of them. After all there are enough other Psychometric tests.


  Just a quick few thoughts. I work in a military school in xxxxxxxx and there is certainly a healthy interest in the Armed Forces (although I do appreciate these are children of current serving Army Personnel).

  Most students appear to have a preference for the RAF. The RAF say they have no recruiting issues at all. Therefore most of our students are not successful with an RAF application. They are visiting our school next month and will be carrying out selection tests for approximately 10 students (this is not for Officer training). It will be interesting to see if any of them pass.

  Reasons students are choosing RAF over Army is the perceived/real benefits such as better pay, better accommodation, better status, etc (even their parents are encouraging RAF rather than Army applications). Also the prospect of actually being on a front line at the age of 18-19 is not something young people of today necessarily are in tune with.

  The job market is buoyant in the UK and I would suggest that young people have more opportunities to take qualifications and receive higher levels of support by agencies like Connexions etc which enable them to make more informed decisions.

  Many of the Army personnel who I work alongside come from geographical areas where there has, in the past, had limited work opportunities, and many parent have left school with few, if any qualifications—which is not the case in 2008.

  Perhaps the quality of careers guidance is also opening opportunities to young people who in the past thought they had little option to join the Forces.

  Colleges are also offering a range of courses for students who have not enjoyed school and at varying Levels so further education is not just an opportunity for "clever" students.

  Some of our students fail application due to lack of fitness, which is a sign of the times it seems.

  Also the Army Foundation College limits access to those under the age of 17 (and a few months I think). This means students who want to stay on for a year in school are then too old to apply to the Army Foundation College at Harrogate... a bit shortsighted in my personal view.


  I have the following feedback on Armed Forces recruitment. I was recently told by a Year 11 student who wants to apply to the RAF that the RAF Careers Office nearby had told her she should not apply for a BTEC National in Public Services at level 3, but to apply for A levels instead. This surprised me, as it seems contradictory to the government's agenda and to Aim Higher guidelines?


  I work in a busy FE college and can confirm that for the last seven years I have never been asked by anyone about joining the Army, however I have had a handful of enquiries about becoming a pilot with the RAF. This is despite the fact that the Army visit with information and DVDs etc which are available in our Learning Resources Centre.

  Just for interest I personally have two nephews who are soldiers (on different sides of the family) both in their mid 20's and my own son did contemplate joining as an officer when he was 25 but after one interview did not pursue the application.


  I'm now in management and so see far fewer clients than in previous years.

General impressions

  Not what it was when I entered the profession in 1979. The Falklands gave the public a reality check about the potential challenges of such employment—a mother actually said to me at that time when seeing me with a younger child that she "didn't encourage her (older) son to join the Royal Navy only to have him go and get killed" (He didn't in fact get sent to the Falklands).

  Until then, service life had been very attractive to many young people and their parents from across the ability range. I don't think numbers have recovered since then.

  Current hostilities are on the news and in the newspapers every day. The result is that a lot of parents are refusing consent for the under 18s. It is not helped by the fact that it is clear that the kitting out of staff is considered sub-standard by many service personnel and recent coroners' enquiries have confirmed and publicised this fact.


  As the 14-16 co-ordinator at an FE college I know that we have considerable interest by students in years 9, 10, and 11 on the Uniformed Public Services course in joining the Army. The college offer 15 places a year for Public Services at Key Stage 4 and we have no problem recruiting to the programme.


  The level of interest in HM Armed forces of my current Y11 cohort is very much the same as in previous years, and that is low, but evidence indicates much of this interest evaporates during 6th form (I have almost no students who do not stay on for further education of some sort).

  Over the last few years I have had more girls showing interest in, applying to and being accepted for Welbeck than boys.

  The level of interest in the Armed Forces in my 6th forms has stayed much the same as ever. However when interviewed many of them seem oblivious to the UK's commitment to Afghanistan and Iraq and seem very naive about the role of armed troops; most of my 6th form students progress to Higher Education so I cannot comment on their subsequent interest.

  The Defence Committee might extend their enquiries to Higher Education to elicit attitudes there?


  Yes, young people are still interested in the armed forces. The more able are often looking for the opportunities for careers development. The less academic want good training eg construction and engineering or housing. Girls are more likely to see it as some thing for them once they have got past the influence of half their peers wanting to do beauty and hairdressing!

  I believe that interest in the armed forces is decreasing. I feel that fewer young people are asking about military careers. This is mainly due to the wars in the Middle East and negative media coverage of military personnel in the media. Parents are defiantly less keen on their children joining the military especially the 16-17 year olds.

Some examples

    A 16-year-old girl doing catering at FE College. Wants to join army as chef—her mother thinks she is perfectly suited to army life and would thrive. But her parents are not keen for her to join up. They wanted her to join the TA, as this was part time and therefore less risky. (within last three months)

    Last month 18 year old on a level 3 Engineering course at college. Said he had considered it but felt that the services took the wrong sort of people. He wanted to work with people he could trust.

    A 19-year-old young man "D" came in wanting careers advice after having left the Navy. He had witnessed a shipmate throw/push a girlfriend (a fellow crew member) through a window. He felt that this had not been taken seriously by the Navy the crewmember in question only got a light punishment. D felt he should have been discharged or imprisoned. D did not want to work for an organisation that condoned this type of behaviour. (This was a year or two ago)

  The Army experience activities are good at helping young people decide if the Army is for them although there are issues about providing chaperones for girls. Schools and colleges are being asked to provide them if they send any girls on these activities.


  At a recent Careers Evening held in the xxxxxxxxxxxx area I was surprised to see how interested young people were in the Armed Forces stand. They had the longest queue over the whole evening.


  The only way that I can judge is to say that I have observed a significant decrease in the numbers coming forward for interviews with the RAF and Army Services Liaison staff in the last six years-decreasing from six to eight enquiries each term to none at all, or the occasional one.

  I can't personally see why this might be, but suspect that when the economy is buoyant and there are other jobs, people may opt for these instead. The war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the reporting of casualties, news stories about bullying, unexplained deaths etc probably don't help.


  I have no case study to offer but I have seen a number of Y11 leavers at school who are interested in joining the armed forces, some immediately after Y11 and others after studying the Public Services Course at college. The majority seem to be thinking about the Army.

  After checking that their decision is well researched and thought out, I usually advise them to speak to the Army Careers Officer based locally before making a final decision.

  Many are attracted by the possibility of learning a trade especially where there are limited opportunities locally. Others are attracted by the possibility of a pension from the armed forces, while others simply want to join the fighting arm of the Army.


  In my opinion young people are as interested as ever in joining the forces. Many still see it as a good career and in an economic black spot like xxxxxxxxxx one of the best routes into employment.

  However of the record there seems to be some concern about armed forces representatives coming into careers centres to publicise their wares. As a careers adviser of many years standing I begin to despair! ! Perhaps if the Government decided that careers advisers have a lead role in encouraging young people to consider the forces this will be hit on the head


  I have noticed a reduction in young people asking about careers in the armed forces. One young man told me he has been put off applying as he has now realised that he might actually have to go to war!! The realities of the services have been in the news much more recently. I feel in the past a number of my clients didn't fully understand what being in the forces really meant and they are now making a more informed choice albeit from what they see on the TV.

19 March 2008

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