Army boosts ethnic recruit figures with five-year plan

The number of black and Asian recruits joining the Army is rising
dramatically due to a raft of initiatives to encourage young people from ethnic
minorities to sign up.

Colonel Wayne Harber, deputy head of army recruitment, said the number of
non-white recruits rose from 3.5 per cent to 6 per cent between April and
August this year.

He said he was pleased with the figures, which are above the Army’s target
of 5 per cent, but stressed it is important not be complacent. He said,
"This is the result of five years of organisational change. It is the
result of a lot of time, money and resources trying to change the organisation.
It will take at least another five years to consider ourselves anywhere near
where we want to be," he said.

Harber said a policy of zero-tolerance towards racial discrimination in the
Army was introduced in October 1997 to try to create a workplace free from bias
and harassment.

To achieve this, a number of initiatives were introduced including a
confidential helpline, an equal opportunities investigation team and access for
soldiers to employment tribunals.

Harber said the Army had taken note of research carried out among black and
Asian youths which advised it to be aware it had a problem with racism, to tell
ethnic minorities what was being done to stamp it out and to show commitment to
recruiting black and Asian people.

An Ethnic Minority Recruitment Team was introduced, made up of non-white
soldiers, to tell prospective black and Asian recruits about their experiences
in the Army.

The Army has also run a number of adverts to try to challenge people’s ideas
and perceptions about race and the Army.

The Focus Consultancy, which specialises in recruitment, has also been hired
by the Army to go into communities and tell young ethnic minority people about
career opportunities it can offer.

It sounds like a job from hell. The first civilian head of HR stepped into
the breach at the Royal Ulster Constabulary in the same week that the world’s
media were dominated by pictures of children caught up in violent protests over
a route to school.

While Joe Stewart is unlikely to find himself the target of a pipe bomb, he
could be in the firing line in other ways. The huge task of reforming the RUC
into an organisation with support from both sides of Ulster’s sectarian divide
is predominantly an HR challenge. Successful reform will depend on making
drastic changes to recruitment, training and work culture in an organisation
where currently less than 10 per cent of officers are Catholics.

A lot of HR chiefs talk about overhauling corporate culture as if it were a
matter of life and death, but in Stewart’s case this is no exaggeration.
Stewart acknowledges himself that changes to work culture at the RUC are vital
to the success of the peace process. His planned comprehensive review of HR
will have a direct impact on the safety of officers and their ability to
protect both sides of the community. If ever there was a demonstration of the
crucial role of HR this is it.

It won’t be easy. He will have to bring down absence rates from the current
10 per cent. He will have to restructure the force during a period when the RUC
will be losing up to 90 officers a month. And the difficulties are compounded
by the fact that every move the RUC makes is done in the full glare of the
media.

But Stewart and his colleagues will have the satisfaction of knowing they are
helping to make history. Stewart has an opportunity to show what HR is all
about and everyone in the profession will want to wish him success.

By Ben Willmott

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