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Analysing trends in British Army application rejections: a five-year overview

Last week it was reported by the Daily Telegraph that, in a bid to enhance diversity and inclusion within its ranks, the British Army is considering relaxing its security vetting procedures for overseas recruits, as revealed by a leaked document titled The British Army’s Race Action Plan.

This reported initiative aims to address the chronic issue of failing to meet recruitment targets and the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities, which currently stands at 14% of the regular army. The document identifies stringent security clearance protocols as a significant barrier preventing non-UK personnel from joining the officer corps, particularly in intelligence and officer positions that require unrestricted access to secret information. By challenging these security clearance requirements, the paper reports, the Army hopes to attract more talent from diverse backgrounds, especially from Commonwealth countries.

However, this proposed policy change has sparked controversy and criticism from several quarters, including former senior military officers. Critics argue that prioritising diversity and inclusion over national security could compromise the fighting capability of the armed forces and pose a threat to national security. A letter from 12 former senior military officers published in The Telegraph vehemently opposes the relaxation of vetting standards, describing it as “dangerous madness” amidst the rising threats of extremism.

In response to the backlash, Defence Secretary Grant Shapps has ordered a comprehensive review of the Armed Forces’ diversity and inclusion policies, emphasizing the importance of maintaining stringent security measures while also striving for a more inclusive military force.

But to what degree is the leaked document reflective of real life patterns and trends in recruitment?

An AOAV analysis of army recruitment rejection shows that no single would-be soldier was rejected owing to failing a Counter Terrorist Check. Over 800 people were rejected because of tattoos.

To offer a more measured debate around the challenges of recruiting an armed force for the UK, this article delves into these patterns, uncovering the underlying factors driving changes in the recruitment landscape and offering insights into potential areas for policy adjustment and process improvement.

In the last five years, the British Army rejected 125,861 applicants, with the primary reason being medical disqualification (76,187 cases). Additionally, 23,763 Commonwealth applicants were turned away due to a lack of vacancies. The data highlights medical reasons as the leading cause of rejection, followed by limited vacancies for Commonwealth candidates, indicating either increased interest from these nations or fewer available positions. Administrative hurdles, like incomplete paperwork, have also been a notable obstacle for potential recruits.

Age-related rejections meant that 295 people were not allowed to join the British military. A surge to 131 overage rejections in RY23/24, up from lower figures in preceding years, raises questions about changing demographics or possibly stricter enforcement of age criteria. Conversely, there were only 34 underage rejections, culminating in 17 in RY23/24.

With medical reasons leading the rejection causes, peaking at 18,180 in RY20/21 before decreasing to 12,076 by RY23/24, the data underscores the critical importance of health and fitness in the army’s recruitment criteria. Overall, some 76,187 people were rejected from joining the army owing to fitness concerns. The persistent, albeit lower, fitness-related rejections emphasise the non-negotiable nature of physical readiness for military service.

A significant challenge highlighted is the non-completion of necessary clearance forms, with a notable 2,166 rejections in RY20/21, decreasing yet still prominent at 1,097 by RY23/24. Additionally, a marked increase in crime-related clearance issues in recent years points to enhanced background check rigour, reflecting the army’s commitment to integrity and security. This seems to run counter to the senior retired officers’ concerns that rules for joining are being made more, not less, lax.

The dramatic rise in rejections due to “no current vacancies” for Commonwealth applicants, especially the spike to 7,707 in RY23/24, illustrates the high demand for army roles within this group. This trend signals a potential mismatch between the availability of positions and the volume of applicants, highlighting an area for strategic recruitment planning.

The decline in rejections for attitude/maturity issues from 128 in RY20/21 to 63 in RY23/24 suggests either an improvement in applicant preparedness or adaptations in the recruitment process. This change points to the importance of aligning recruitment strategies with evolving societal norms and expectations.

The stark contrast in “Failed Basic Eligibility” rejections from RY19/20’s 4,750 to significantly lower numbers thereafter suggests either a one-time anomaly or effective adjustments in the application process. This serves as a reminder of the critical role that clear communication and efficient processing play in recruitment outcomes.

Overall, this analysis of army application rejection reasons over a five-year span reveals a complex interplay of factors influencing recruitment outcomes. From medical standards and administrative hurdles to demographic shifts and attitudinal changes, each element contributes to the shaping of the army’s future forces. Addressing these challenges through streamlined processes, enhanced pre-application guidance, and strategic planning can not only improve recruitment efficiency but also ensure that the army remains a reflection of the society it serves. No where in the data does it suggest that ‘wokeism’ is driving either recruitment or rejection.

However, is the data suggests, in the quest for quality and readiness, adaptability and responsiveness are key to ensure that a fighting force fundamentally rooted in the society it is tasked to protect is a force that knows what it is fighting for. It seems, for all the criticism, the British Army’s Race Action Plan is a considered way of achieving this.

Army Application Rejection Reasons by Year

ReasonRY19/20RY20/21RY21/22RY22/23RY23/24
Age – Over Age43803942131
Age – Under Age5~6617
Alcohol~131913
AOSB Briefing Failure~~6
AOSB Main Board Fail~~
Appeal in Progress
Appeal Outcome9116~~
Assessment Centre Fail4723181920
Attitude/Maturity801281069363
Authority Rejection11191372739
Basic Skills829~
BMI232162095
Candidate not selected by APC Glasgow1413~
Clearance – Care Order~5~~
Clearance – Counter Terrorist Check (CTC)~~
Clearance – Crime~7~350245
Clearance – Disclosure & Barring Service (DBS)~
Clearance – Financial Issues~~
Clearance – Nationality6846152552
Clearance – Non completion of Forms2166136011401097
Clearance – Piercings170127722435
Clearance – Residency186129452062
Clearance – Tattoos143149102252173
Clearance – Visa505877287293
Commonwealth – No current vacancies4636207483245577707
Commonwealth – Unsuitable for entry8522219114239
Consent Form not provided~7~~
Continuing Education
Criminal Convictions/Crime~~~
Current Operations9
Delinquency/Crime53462933639
Discipline955~~
Drugs6711~~
Education~~~
Failed Basic Eligibility4750279260280179
Failed to Attend Event(s)33523619918894
Finance~~
Fitness1938201911
Family Origin Questionnaire Consent not given (SCT)251949
Joining Other Service – Royal Air Force~~~
Joining Other Service – Royal Marines~~~
Joining Other Service – Royal Navy~~
Language Ability – English Speaking & Listening~~~~
Medical1744318180138321465612076
Motivation/Commitment11041420111665
No Vacancy Available~71763712
Non-Productive Enquiry/Lack of Contact~
None~~~
Other non-Military Employment2413
Prior Service Check Rejection83813741055671674
Psychometric Test Result~~~~
Refusal of Parental Consent
Start New Stream20~
Terms and Conditions of Service~~
Unsuitable at Interview16287~~
Unsuitable for Job Choice~
Waiver Refused78~~
Total2575030657231892310023175