Introduction - the Challenge of Reserve Recruit Training
Recruiting for the Army Reserve (ARes) is challenging. As such, it is vital that as many recruits as possible are supported and mentored through the successful completion of their Recruit and Initial Employment Training (IET) courses.
A reduction in standards is rightly not the solution. So, how does an ARes unit ensure that recruits make the most of their potential, meet the standard and get through these hurdles?
Identifying the Hurdles
The 5th/6th Royal Victorian Regiment (5/6 RVR) examined the reasons why recruited members did not become part of the trained force. We identified two main contributing factors; members separating prior to attending the Reserve Recruit Training Course (RRTC), and failure on the RRTC.
Examination of these factors showed that there was a low rate of (near unavoidable) loss pre-recruit course, as some people simply had second thoughts or their personal circumstances changed. However, the most common reason that people separated prior to attending the RRTC was because they were never paneled for a course. This lack of course paneling was easy to fix and it was subsequently mandated by Headquarters 2nd Division (HQ 2 Div) that recruits be nominated within a set time or separated from the ARes.
The main contributor to recruit wastage was failure on the RRTC. This failure was most often due to recruits not meeting the required physical fitness standard. This loss was considered to be potentially controllable and one that 5/6 RVR engaged in rectifying.
Drilling deeper it was identified that fitness results for the Pre-enlistment / Appointment Fitness Assessment (PFA) were a clear indicator of physical fitness success on the course. Those that passed the PFA by a significant margin pre-recruit course, passed easily on recruit course (yes this is blindingly obvious). However, those that just passed in a unit location (often with coaching or pacing from others) suddenly failed on day 3 of the RRTC by a significant margin, and were often unsuccessful at their re-test. What was going on?
Speaking with successful and unsuccessful recruits, staff, and personnel with a combat fitness leader (or equivalent) background, a small number of consistent factors became apparent. The most obvious is that underlying fitness above a certain point generated success on virtually every occasion. The evidence within the unit was that once a pre-recruit was consistently running 8+ on the PFA, they could get a 7.5 (pass) even in the worst conditions. Delving into the narrow passes, which had a pattern of becoming failures, other factors became prevalent; sleep and shock suddenly came to the fore. Broadly, the shock of a new environment disrupted the routine of home, and what is obvious to professional athletes is poorly understood by most others; poor sleep before a run (or other assessment) can impact performance as much as 10%. Recruits that were achieving marginal passes and lacking some confidence were recording results on the RRTC nearly 10% below the results they achieved when the PFA was conducted in the unit. Similarly, shock because of not understanding what to expect or not having a mate along-side to share the shock, could also have a similar effect. Anecdotal evidence again bore out as consistent with the observed results.
Having analysed these results 5/6 RVR considered what could be achieved within the extant guidelines and very limited time-frame available. It was determined that the absolute focus pre-course should be on setting recruits up for success on RRTC, and, if need be, setting aside other training for delivery post-RRTC. In doing this three core deliverables were identified and became the mantra of the unit’s pre-recruit program:
- Fitness is a focus. The target to ensure PFA success at RRTC is 8.5 on the run, and 10 push-ups and 10 sit-ups above the minimum standard required to pass.
- Teamwork. An environment that supports one another reduces the shock of a new environment. The mantra of “two is one; one is none” was adopted and communicated very early to pre-recruits - be there with your mate or neither of you are ready.
- Expectation management. A presentation on what to expect is delivered by a recruit who has just completed the course. The recruit discusses their experience and explains what to expect, how it made them feel and how they overcame some of the initial shock.
In using the above approach, fitness and shock have been directly addressed. Also by having the recruits establish a ‘battle buddy’ and supporting each other, most recruits tended to sleep a little better.
These will seem like minor impacts to training however the proof is always in the results.
Over the last 20 months 5/6 RVR has now sent over 100 recruits to RRTC. While there have been 5 failures, all have been for non-controllable reasons, such as a medical condition or injury while on course. Of note, not a single fitness failure has been observed since Feb 2015 in a 5/6 RVR recruit. The unit now maintains one of the highest overall pass rates at RRTC. These results are being achieved with an average of 5 Army Reserve Training Salary (ARTS) days expenditure per individual.
A great return for a comparatively small investment and certainly something for other units to consider.
I really like how you have a focus on expectation management! So often new reserve soldiers march-in and join us full of enthusiasm and willingness to get stuck in, only to be disappointed at the lengthy and bureaucratic nature of course nominations to Kapooka and IETs.
From my understanding, over the last ten years, approximately half of ORs drop out before they complete IETs. For Os only about a quarter successfully complete this training.
I'm curious to know what your reserve trainee retention/completion rate is against this average, and what strategies you are employing post Kapooka and in the lead up to IETs? Are your strategies able to be bench-marked as best practice, and implemented across ARes units?