UK military looks to explore more personnel with autism, Asperger’s and neurodivergent individuals

9:56 16.08.2023 •

The Prince and Princess of Wales visit the Army Training Center.
Photo: Daily Mail

The UK military is considering plans to raise the age cap on service personnel and ‘hire more neurodiverse people’ to broaden the range of skills within the forces, a Defence minister has announced.

In an interview with the Financial Times, British Defence minister Andrew Murrison said the British army, navy and air force needed to adopt a more “flexible” attitude to their workforce as they faced a “catalogue” of gaps spanning engineers, chefs and psychiatrists.

The minister for defence people, veterans and service families said the country’s tight labour market meant “there are pinch points where things are quite serious” and the armed forces had to do more to “compete” to hire and retain personnel.

Murrison insisted the situation is not “disastrous”, but conceded: “I’m not happy with recruitment and I’m not happy with retention.”

Currently, the full-time trained strength of the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force is below target, with army and navy reserves also below target size. In the year to April, 5,420 more people left than joined the regular armed forces, which boasts 133,570 full-time trained personnel.

Allowing older staff to continue serving for longer is one proposal Murrison wants to pursue. “As the workforce ages, as we compete for available talent, I think we have to look at hard cut offs for service personnel,” he said.

Murrison said that currently “it’s quite difficult to serve beyond the age of 55 unless you’re very, very senior” and anyone in the forces over the age of 60 is an “exception”.

In addition, as the military shifts towards becoming a more skills-based organisation with an increasing emphasis on cyber prowess, it should look at “casting the net more widely” to hire more neurodiverse people, Murrison said.

Already some neurodivergent individuals, including those with dyslexia and dyspraxia, serve in the forces, but Murrison said he wanted to explore recruiting more personnel with autism, Asperger’s and ADHD, who may “have skills and attributes which other people do not have”.

The independent report by business executive Rick Haythornthwaite warned the armed forces were pitched against the private sector in trying to lure people with strong cyber skills.

Meanwhile, he found below-inflation pay rises, dismal housing conditions and rigid career structures in the military were fuelling churn and hitting recruitment.

Responding to the review, Murrison said he wanted to introduce more flexibility for personnel to switch between being regulars and reservists, allowing people to flow more easily between the military, civil service and private sector.

He also backed Haythornthwaite’s recommendation for the forces to introduce more flexible pay models, allowing “reward for skills to be delinked from rank”.

The proposal marks a cultural shift in a highly hierarchical organisation, where traditionally “the more senior you are, the more money you get”, Murrison said. He accepted – it will spark “a little bit of rancour”.

…The next step seems to invite patients of mental hospitals into the British army. Don’t you forget the Jack Nicholson’s film “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”?


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