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Brit armed forces still don't have enough techies, thunder MPs

Why aren't more people lining up to fight with a mouse, keyboard and gun?

Parliament’s influential Public Accounts (PAC) Committee reckons UK Armed Forces need to recruit more digitally able folk to halt a widening skills gap, warning the military does not have a "coherent plan" to do so.

With an existing 26 per cent shortfall in the target number of full-time intelligence analysts in the ranks of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, the PAC said "a challenging external environment, including national skill shortages in areas such as engineering, means that the Department faces strong competition from other government bodies and the private sector to recruit specialist skills".

Issued today, the PAC's report, titled “Skill shortages in the Armed Forces”, paints a bleak picture of life in the military, warning that as well as shortages of personnel in 102 trades across the three armed forces, annual turnover of personnel approached 15 per cent in five key trades.

Though the Ministry of Defence was said to “understand the main reasons why people leave the armed forces”, it does not “understand fully whether there are specific issues in those trades with more significant shortfalls” of people. Just 50 people have, so far, been recruited laterally into higher-ranked posts.

The MoD also acknowledged the difficulty of “attracting more people with … cyber skills” to life in the Armed Forces. Last year we reported that 77 Brigade, the Army unit which does psyops and online work, was 40 per cent under its target strength, while earlier this summer Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson issued what he imagined was a stirring call-to-arms for the Great British Techie to join up.

Key to the forces’ skill shortages, whether in digital or otherwise, is an employment and training model based on the practices of the early 20th century. The PAC noted that “it takes the Armed Forces many years to develop the experienced military personnel they need.” This is because the Armed Forces are built around a model where every individual is expected to fight in the front line of a shooting war, regardless of their day-to-day trade. Techies, infosec specialists and mechanics are all expected to be able to grab a rifle and jump into a trench.

Young people join and are trained from scratch to do whatever the Services need of them, with age limits and an infamously hierarchical rank structure preventing virtually all lateral recruitment, something informed thinkers within military circles have begun to question.

When it comes to “cyber skills professionals”, the PAC said the MoD “is developing a new long-term career structure specifically in this field, reviewing the entry requirements and considering whether these posts need to be military roles,” meaning it may end up hiring techies on civil service terms and conditions.

Military recruitment over the past year or two has also been strangled by the MoD’s infamous Capita IT contract. ®

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