In January 2018, the Armed Forces had the largest shortfall of regulars for many years. It has skill shortages in over 100 critical trades. This is a longstanding problem and the Department does not expect to close the shortfall of 8,200 regulars until 2022 at the earliest. So far, the Department states that it has managed to deliver defence operations by prioritising its commitments and placing additional demands on regulars. But this approach is not sustainable in the long-term, particularly as the nature of warfare is evolving rapidly, and the Department increasingly needs more specialist technical and digital skills to respond to threats to national security. It currently has skill shortages in critical trades, including a 23% shortfall in pilot trades; a 26% shortfall in intelligence analyst trades; and a 17% shortfall in engineers. The Department has not developed a coherent plan for closing the existing skill gaps and securing the new skills that it will need. It has relied too much on long-established and conservative approaches, and has been slow to respond to the changing external environment. Its initiatives to improve recruitment have been small-scale and piecemeal, and the changes to regulars’ terms and conditions have not yet helped retention. The Department needs to: develop and implement a strategy to close existing skill gaps and secure the new skills that it needs; make better use of the extensive data it collects to understand the causes of shortfalls in critical trades; and exploit more innovative approaches to recruiting and retaining people with specialist skills.
Published: 12 September 2018