New college to combat shortage of army recruits

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A new Army college for 16-to 18-year olds, designed to provide the force with high-quality recruits, is to be up and running by September next year, the armed forces minister, Nicholas Soames, announced yesterday.

The idea is to overcome the Army's recruiting problems - it is currently 5,000 short - and to attract above-average recruits who will be able to handle hi-tech weaponry in complex situations. Those who complete the course will get vocational qualifications and a guaranteed job in the Army for three years.

The Ministry of Defence is inviting tenders from anyone who wants to run the new Army Foundation College. It is expected the successful applicant will be a consortium, such as Serco-Laing, which has won the contract to run the new Joint Service Command and Staff College at Shrivenham, Oxfordshire. The college will cost the MoD pounds 67m in the first five years.

The new college will take 600 male and female students, rising to 1,300. There will be 96 military staff: the civilian teaching staff will be provided by the contractor.

The MoD insisted the college could be anywhere, but it clearly favours the former Royal Signals apprentices' school at Harrogate in North Yorkshire. The Army needs 15,000 new recruits each year. Officer recruitment - 80 per cent are graduates - is not a problem.

Soldier recruits can join at 17, but most people leave school at 16 or 18, so the new scheme is designed to give them a useful training and prepare them for military service for a year.

Army recruiting has been badly hit by a slump in the number of young people and by the expansion in tertiary education. The new scheme also aims to provide useful training for school leavers who decide not to pursue a military career. But the prime aim is to select and train young people who will be future sergeants and sergeant-majors. The Army hopes it will be particularly attractive to members of ethnic minorities.

The 42-week course will comprise 23 weeks of military training, five weeks of leadership and initiative and 14 weeks of vocational education. Those who get through the year-long course will gain National or Scottish Vocational Qualifications at levels 2 or 3, depending on their ability.

They will also gain an N/SVQ award in Public Services at level 1. Those who complete the course and join the Army will be credited with the 10- week phase 1 of their basic military training, and move straight to the more specialised phase 2.

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