Poor image leaves RAF in recruitment dogfight

The RAF is battling against skills shortages and the public’s poor perception of life in the services in its annual drive to recruit engineers. The RAF recruits 140 graduate engineers each year, said squadron leader Dawn Payne. ‘It’s very demanding trying to achieve those targets. It’s very competitive, an engineering graduate is quite a coveted […]

The RAF is battling against skills shortages and the public’s poor perception of life in the services in its annual drive to recruit engineers.

The RAF recruits 140 graduate engineers each year, said squadron leader Dawn Payne. ‘It’s very demanding trying to achieve those targets. It’s very competitive, an engineering graduate is quite a coveted thing.’

While the service is able to offer a good salary and package, including non-contributory pension, free healthcare, free dental care, and excellent sporting facilities, many people are against joining the services at all. ‘But it’s a real engineering role, and a very demanding one. It gives them a lot more responsibility earlier on than they would get in business, which offers them the chance to flex their managerial muscles,’ said Payne.

Engineer officers are responsible for managing both people and resources. Each officer will typically head a team of technicians, and be responsible for the maintenance of an aircraft in the front line to ensure it is able to meet its flying schedule.

To attract recruits early, the RAF offers sponsorship to 50 university students on engineering degree courses each year. This also helps towards meeting the service’s overall recruitment target, said Payne. ‘We met our target last year, and so far this year we’re on track, we are over halfway there.’

Unlike many companies, the RAF has no deadline for meeting its targets, and is able to recruit engineers all year round.

‘We recruit all forms of engineers, to work both in communications/electronics and aero-systems,’ said Payne.

Engineers deal with the weapons, avionics and propulsion systems of each aircraft, their airborne systems and the ground support that goes with them.

Each is put through a one-year training scheme, with the first six months spent in officer training and the second in developing their engineering skills to suit the needs of the air force. Once this is completed they are given their first job, often in aircraft operations or tactical communications.

This career development scheme then leads to chartered engineer status.