MoD needs plan to plug skill gaps and face emerging threats

12 September 2018

The Public Accounts Committee report finds department should innovate to recruit and retain people with specialist skills required.

Armed forces have skill shortages in over 100 critical trades

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 Ministry of Defence 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.

MoD has not developed a coherent plan for closing the existing skill gaps

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.

Chair's comments

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"The Government’s ‘make do and mend’ approach to staffing its defence commitments cannot continue.

Muddling through is unsustainable—a point underlined by the fact that twice as many Forces regulars describe morale as ‘low’ than did so at the start of the decade.

The MoD must ensure the Armed Forces have the skilled personnel they need to tackle established and emerging threats to national security.

A creative, effective workforce strategy is long overdue but will be vital if the stresses of today are not to become the crises of tomorrow."

Further information

Image: Crown copyright

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