Limited range of low-grade courses undermine long-term employability

Recruits joining the British Army at 16 and 17 are not getting the skills and qualifications they will need once they return to the civilian jobs market, according to a report from Child Soldiers International published today.

Mind the gap: Education for minors in the British armed forces’ shows that despite the promise of excellent educational and training opportunities, the Army’s offer is extremely limited. Only low-grade qualifications are available, which fails to meet the modern standards now expected for all young people.

Child Soldiers International’s report finds that:

  • The curriculum for school-leavers joining the Army does not include GCSEs, A-levels, CBTECs, HNC or HND qualifications.1
  • The Army’s only attainment target for new infantry recruits is the achievement of Level 1 in Functional Skills before completing training. This is well below the GCSE A*-C standard recommended by the Department for Education as ‘critical’ for young people seeking work.2
  • Army apprenticeships are generally focused on specialised military training of little transferable value to civilian employment.3
  • 94% of young people stay on in education after age 16, thanks to successive governments’ policies on social mobility and education. By seeking to recruit at the same age, the Army competes with the civilian education system, which offers superior academic and vocational training opportunities.
  • Significant cost savings could be made by phasing out recruitment of 16-year-olds, whose longer, more expensive training and higher drop-out rate result are a net drain on the MoD budget amounting to tens of millions of pounds.4

'Good qualifications and transferable skills are increasingly important for long term employment, and social mobility, as government policy makes plain. Yet those recruited by the army at the age of 16 and 17 do not get the qualifications and skills that they will need for their later working lives’ said Richard Clarke, Director of Child Soldiers International.

The Royal British Legion previously published research which found that ex-Service personnel had an unemployment rate twice the national average, and that ‘lack of training, qualifications or skills’ was a particular problem for them.5

The UK is the only country in the European Union to permit recruitment from age 16 into the armed forces. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the House of Commons Defence Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights have all called on the government to raise or review the minimum age for armed forces recruitment; the MoD has yet to do so.

‘The planned extension of compulsory education to age 18 offers the best opportunity to review the minimum age for military recruitment in the UK and raise it to 18 years,’ said Richard Clarke. ‘The UK is lagging behind a growing international consensus in support of the “straight-18” position endorsed by several international and national expert bodies,’ he added.