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NAO says armed forces need more digital skills



Government auditor highlights problems in ‘pinch point’ trades and MoD’s ‘base-fed’ model for building capability

The UK’s military forces are in need of more digital skills to deal with changes in how warfare is likely to be conducted, according to a review by the National Audit Office (NAO).

It has published a report on the broad outlook for skills in the armed forces, warning they are on course for a shortfall within the next five years.

This identifies 102 “pinch point” trades that do not have enough trained regulars to carry out operational tasks without measures such as cancelling leave or training.

The challenge is also likely to grow as the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will increasingly require new specialist technical and digital skills to respond to the emerging threats of modern warfare, and has estimated it will resolve only six of the pinch points within five years.

The report says that new threats are increasing the demand for technical and digital skills, but there is stiff competition from the private sector and the MoD does not have sufficiently flexible approach to their development.

Among the steps it suggests is the ministry could assess whether its career structures and pay packages are suited to specialist groups, the potential for targeted campaigns, and its ability to compete in specialist recruitment markets.

It should also look at the scope for greater collaboration with other national security forces, the report says.

Recruitment and retention

On a broad front, the armed forces’ skills shortfall results mainly from recruitment and retention problems. In 2016-17 there was a 24% shortfall against targets for the number of regulars recruited.

The MoD’s reliance on a ‘base-fed’ model – where it recruits regulars into the lowest ranks and develops their skills and experience over time – has not enabled it to close capability gaps quickly enough. The commands have implemented initiatives to improve the recruitment of skilled personnel but many of these were at an early stage and small scale.

Another problem identified is that the ministry has not established effective authority to undertake a strategic assessment of armed forces’ future workforce capability.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “Ensuring the armed forces have the right number of skilled personnel in place is not a new challenge, but given the complexity and development of new, modern-world threats, it is a challenge that will only continue to grow.

“The department needs to fundamentally change its approach to develop skilled personnel and address the long established shortfalls that persist.”

 Image from MoD, Open Government Licence v1.0

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