The Army is waging an offensive on the recruitment and training fronts, writes Martin Whittaker. A new Army Foundation College announced earlier this year, aims to provide school-leavers with military and vocational training.
Recruitment and training have been brought under one roof with the relaunch of the Army Training and Recruiting Agency. The Ministry of Defence admits a need to take a softer approach to get away from the traditional image of cold showers and bellowing sergeants. There has even been a poster recruitment campaign by Saatchi and Saatchi.
The reasons, says Lt Col Andrew de Lukascs-Lessner, schools liaison officer, is a real shortage of personnel. "The Army needs 750 officers and 15,000 soldiers a year to man itself. But there's a 10 per cent shortfall.
"It's getting men and women able to cope with the physical requirementsI Young people aren't as robust as they used to be. This is why the Army has had to review the physical requirements, break them in bit by bit."
Lt Col de Lukascs-Lessner is one of a team of Army schools liaison officers. He is concerned with recruiting officers for the Wessex region. His job is to go into schools, talk to pupils and staff and advise teenagers wanting a career as an Army officer.
He visits some 32 schools - independent, grant maintained and some comprehensives - each term. Of those coming into the Army as officers, around 22 to 24 per cent have had combined cadet force (CCF) experience at school. "The reason schools liaison officers concentrate on independent schools is that they have CCFs and that tends to create an interest in the services. But in terms of balance, we are looking to increase the whole field. There's no difference between somebody from a state school or an independent school - it's all down to the individual and whether they have the qualities to do the job."
If he thinks a teenager is patently unsuitable, he will try to dissuade them. "It's a calling, not a job," he says. "As a way of life, it's very different. They are going to have to understand that and really want to do it."
* There are various methods of entry to becoming an officer, including the fast-track Army Sixth Form Scholarship, entry to the Army's sixth-form college at Welbeck in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, and awards including university bursaries and cadetships. A good source of information is the Army's website, at httpwww.army.mod.uk. Or telephone Army recruiting on 0345 300111.