Back in 2007 I did some analysis on future trends in defence recruitment. This was a fairly extensive and complex piece of work, but one of the main findings was:
'When an economy is struggling, Defence recruitment increases.'
This is a pretty established historical trend, generally, when things are good, less people 'enlist'. Defence can, and does, look like a stable way of earning, with the potential to learn new skills. However, at the same time, when the economy for a particular country is booming, the general trend is for recruitment to reduce and for retention to be harder as more people are less willing to take the risks that come with joining one of the Armed Forces.
I found this when looking at trends in defence recruitment 8 years ago. Today, we've revisited this analysis, and using openly available data, we've produced a 'horizon scan' that outlines many of the strategic issues for Defence recruitment. This paints a fairly nuanced (and evidence-based) picture of future recruitment and retention trends for Defence agencies. We've used mostly UK data for this assessment, but there is probably broad read-across to other countries. For the full map please visit here.
Top 5 issues facing Defence recruitment out to 2045.
We've looked mostly at future strategic issues and, as the map shows, these are pretty complex, especially for a sector as unique and important as Defence. We've assumed that national security will be prime issue in 2045 and that 'people' (as opposed to technological alternatives) will be the main means of delivering defence. Duly caveated, our main findings are:
1. Defence will be seen as a 'high risk' employment sector.
As warfare becomes increasingly centered around precision technology and unmanned systems, the desire to place humans in situations of conflict - where they can be harmed or killed, will probably decline. Similarly with more and more employment opportunities available in an increasingly accessible global employment market place, the number of people willing to 'sign up' and sacrifice certain civilian freedoms for the sake of the state could decline. Could these trends drive a future retraction in the size of scale of 'people-centered' Defence operations? When soldiers are put in conflict situations, will they be deployed under the knowledge that they are high-risk assets and remunerated accordingly? Or will the threats of the future still require humans to be in the center of the action, whilst conflicts are split along the lines of value and belief?
2. 'Traditional' leadership in Defence will change significantly - with a greater proportion of women leaders in place by 2045.
By 2045, there will be a significant number of senior military leaders who are female. This will represent a significant change from the leadership of today and will probably alter policies regarding employment and support to family. Will there be a female Chief of the Defence staff before 2045? Will there be more recruitment for women in the armed forces in the next few years?
3. Do people want a 'job for life' any more?
Defence is a vocation. Many people enlist because they feel strongly that being a solider is who they are? To many who join, Defence is a way of life and that is part of the unique experience that they value so much. It provides meaning and kinship with people seeking to achieve excitement and 'do their bit' for the state. But, arguably, as the state becomes less significant in people's identities, and more and more people think of employment in flexible terms will this model work for the future? Will defence have to adapt employ people from different ages and different career stages? Interestingly, in the UK we've already gone in that direction slightly by having a greater focus on the recruitment of reservists, who are generally made up of a broader and more diverse range of ages and skills sets. Could this variety be increasingly prized by the Armed Forces? At the same time, if defence budgets continue to retract moving from 2.7% of GDP today to around 2.0% by 2045, will it be possible to afford the technical experts required to support the defence systems in the future?
4. How will the state provide the necessary 'duty of care' to those leaving the Armed Forces?
If someone is willing to surrender certain rights and place themselves at risk for the state, it is fair that they should receive remuneration for their sacrifices. In the future, as we know more about the long-term consequences of such sacrifices, will the state structures be able to provide the support required for these people. For example, in the UK, it's assumed that the National Health Service can provide all the necessary support veterans require on leaving active service. But, with competing demands on government budgets in the future, is this an assumption too far? If you think of the number of charities such as 'Help for Heroes' - is the welfare burden for former Defence staff really met by the state today, let alone in the future?
5. How does a nation state compete for the best and brightest people in a global economy?
This is quite a big issue for the future of defence recruitment. We are all part of the global economy today and, we assume, will become even more integrated into it over the next 30 years. For example, let's say the UK represents around 70 million people, in a global market place of around 8 billion. So, as a 'national recruiter' the potential candidates available to you represent around 1% of the total global population (in reality of the proportion of eligible recruits within this band will be narrower still due to the recruitments of age and health). So, as more people and more industries 'go global' where do national employers like the armed forces go for their talent? Does this make it even more inevitable that the overall 'people' profile of the armed forces will decrease as the requirements for 'defence specific' people become more exacting with less and less people able to fill niche roles that only the state, due to its unique role of fulfilling national security, can provide?
So, to sum all of this up. The five points above have been pulled out from our analysis to show the future issues that Defence could face in the future, specifically with regard to its people. None of these trends are certainties, they all represent some of the big strategic issues that Defence, and many other employers will probably face over the next 30 years.