Comparing the challenges of the public and private sector

I spent a day last week in my Colonel Commandant role in the Army.  It’s a sort of non-executive director for the part of the Army where I spent most of my service, the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME), and it was fascinating to reflect on the issues that all organisations in the public and private sector are facing. 

The Army is facing some major challenges in terms of numbers of people and budgets.  The nub of the problem won’t be a surprise to anybody – if you only promote from within the organisation, you have to grow your own leadership, rather than bringing it in from outside.  The Millennial generation don’t want to commit to one career, and therefore the REME has seen average service drop from 15 years to 10 in slightly over a decade.  Add to that the fact that the Army has always done its own training rather than recruiting those already with the required skills, and you’ve got a model which is increasingly out of kilter with modern society. 

What is very reassuring is that the quality of young people who are joining the REME remains very high.  Indeed, we’re having to give graduate engineers more technical responsibility than previously in order to keep them motivated.  In essence, they are serious young people who want to use their hard-won qualifications, and that is a good thing.  For soldiers, we’re looking at how we can recognise the qualifications which they have amassed in Further Education colleges, and shorten the courses that they have to do at Lyneham in Wiltshire where the REME is based; it sounds like a small thing, but it is a large step for the Army.  More broadly, the Army has an advantage over other employers in that those looking to leave have a choice to transfer to the Army Reserve, the old Territorial Army, and continue part-time.  Up until now, we haven’t made enough of those advantage in terms of allowing people to pursue a matrix career, but this change is being driven by necessity.

On budgets and money, and in particular with regard to giving responsibility and flexibility, the Army remains a long way behind local government.  It was fascinating to listen to briefings and discussions about financial issues that we would have solved in Staffordshire County Council at a relatively low level and quickly.  It was disappointing to note that links between different parts of the Ministry of Defence have seemingly not improved since I left regular service 2 years ago; people still appear to make decisions that adversely affect outcomes outside their area without thinking through the consequences.  It was a salutary lesson on which to return to Stafford.

By the way, thanks for the feedback on last week’s entry on attention to detail.  It’s clear that this is a subject that is close to people’s hearts.  


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