Army urges young people lacking confidence to join
Social media addicts, gym junkies and binge drinkers are all being targeted in the Army's latest recruitment drive.
Posters and adverts in the campaign claim members of the armed forces enjoy a "lasting confidence" as opposed to the short-lived satisfaction gleaned from fast fashion and Instagram likes.
The appeal is underpinned by research claiming young people believe they are held back by a lack of self-confidence.
The appeal is the latest in a series, launched in January each year.
Two images featured in the campaign are collages of muscular arms and torsos alongside the tagline: "Confidence can be built for a summertime or it can last a lifetime."
Similar messages criticising short-term confidence boosts are conveyed in collages of pint glasses, spray tans, new trainers, make-up and emojis.
Col Nick MacKenzie, the Army's head of recruitment, said the campaign builds on the success of last year's drive for sign-ups.
The 2019 appeal raised eyebrows as it targeted "snowflakes", "millennials" and "selfie addicts" by evoking Lord Kitchener's "your country needs you" message from World War One.
13,520 people joined the regular armed forces in the 12 months to August 2019 - an increase of 1,593 compared to the previous year. But 14,880 people also left, up from 14,860 in 2018.
There's been scathing criticism of the Army's recruitment process from MPs and the press ever since it signed a contract with the private contractor Capita in 2012.
But both the Army and Capita now believe they've dramatically improved the system.
Changes include speeding up application times, a less rigid approach to any applicants with minor ailments such as asthma and eczema, and new "soldier development" courses to help those who may struggle to meet the standard entry requirements for fitness and literacy.
Last year's recruitment campaign saw a record number of applications - proof, say the Army and Capita, that the situation is improving.
But still only about 10% of those applying make it through to basic training.
The bottom line is that numbers are still falling, with the regular Army now more than 8,000 troops below its target strength.
And the problem is as much about retention, with the MoD's continuous attitudes surveys showing worrying levels of dissatisfaction and frustration with service life.
Col MacKenzie said: "I am delighted that so many people have decided to join the Army this year, which is a result of our successful advertising campaign and the hard work and dedication of all those involved in the recruiting process."
The appeal is in part based on research from 2018 by The Prince's Trust which found that 54% of 16 to 25-year-olds believe a lack of self-confidence holds them back.
Cpl Katie Carter, who joined the Army Air Corps at 16 and now encourages other young people to join, said the main doubts for young people are "deploying or leaving home".
"But as I explain to them it's a lot to do with the training. We have extensive exercises we go on and actually whilst you're there you don't get worried. It's the fear of the unknown really."
Meanwhile, MP and former Army officer Tobias Ellwood said one of the challenges the armed forces face in retaining people is to adapt to personnel's changing personal lives.
"When you join... you're single, you don't have a worry in the world, you're so excited," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
"But you grow in responsibilities - you meet somebody, you have children and so forth and your personal responsibilities change.
"And what the armed forces needs to get better at is understanding that change and providing those facilities that allow you to continue doing the thing that you love - which is serving the armed forces - but also develop and nurture a family too."
Col MacKenzie said: "With the 2020 campaign we want to highlight that a career in the Army not only provides exciting opportunities, challenges and adventure but it also gives you a lasting confidence that is hard to find in any other profession."
'Money could be spent on retention'
Gary Weaving, the head of charity Forgotten Veterans, told Radio 5 Live the shortfall in the armed forces was "for one reason only - the parents [of potential recruits] are listening to the veteran community".
"And the veteran community are saying: when we come out we have not got reasonable immunity to prosecution, we have not got proper mental health treatment, we do not have proper housing," he said. "A lot of them are coming out extremely damaged."
Mr Weaving added: "This new recruitment drive cost £3m and I'm sure they can justify that figure in some way.
"I would have liked to have seen the £3m being spent on mental health services for the serving soldiers and welfare services when they come out."
The government has previously said it spends £22m a year on mental health services for the armed forces, and runs a 24/7 mental health hotline for anyone in need of support.
BBC Radio 5 Live's Your Call heard from an ex-military serviceman, who only gave his name as Tim, who said the adverts were "targeting the wrong people" and should focus more on "the self-reliance you get" from an armed forces job.
He added: "I think they would be better off spending the money on finding out why people are leaving.
"What's the point in getting to people to join if they can't retain them. Why not spend £3m on working out what they can do better to keep people?"
On BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Col MacKenzie was also asked about criticism - made last month by the ombudsman for armed forces complaints - that racism is prevalent within the Army.
"I think the army has really changed," said Col MacKenzie. "I've been in the Army for over 20 years and when I joined it wasn't that diverse.
"Today we have a lot of females… Many females in the Army, lots of BAME [black, Asian and minority ethnic]. We are a diverse organisation."
He added: "I'm sure there is stuff we can still continue to do but I think we're doing pretty well."