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Irish Defence Forces
Defence Forces

Chief of Staff: Full employment in Ireland 'major stumbling block' to solving retention crisis

The ‘job for life’ outlook of his generation is gone, Lt General Seán Clancy conceded.

THE CHIEF OF STAFF of the Defence Forces has said the problem of retention of military personnel is “significant” but that current near total employment in Ireland is a major stumbling block to solving the issue. 

Last month, before the murder of Private Seán Rooney in Lebanon, The Journal sat down with Lt General Seán Clancy to discuss his first year as the head of the Irish Defence Forces. This is the first in a two part series of articles with the Chief of Staff. 

One key area he covered was the problem of retention of staff and the reasons for the crisis that has seen numbers of military personnel plummet. 

This has caused problems for the Irish Naval Service who have not been able to put ships to sea and there have been reports of issues associated with staffing levels across the services. 

Clancy characterises it as “significant” and said he believes that the ‘job for life’ outlook of his generation is gone.

He believes that the problem of retention must be looked at through the prism that many people joining the Defence Forces now view their life in five year blocks.

This then, Clancy believes, is coupled with a very competitive employment market where skills picked up in the military are sought after by recruiters in the private sector. 

“But it’s up to us to create conditions to allow people if they want to leave to ensure they know that they can come back, in terms of reentry, and of recommissioning,” he added. 

He is keen to stress that strategies have been identified to stem the flow out of the Defence Forces but that it is not “as easy as saying ‘make it happen’”. 

“I would hope that in 2023, we can start to try and close the gap between retention and recruitment, and successful recruitment, and we just at least close the gap to show that there is a change,” he said. 

He said recent comments at the Representative Association of Commissioned Officers (RACO) conference around low pension payments is a matter for Government to address. He acknowledged the robust concerns of officers at the conference.  

Clancy said the military were not alone in this issue: “there are many uniformed services affected by the issue of supplementary pensions because of the age limitations that we have on our people.”

Recently The Journal reported on the problem of sergeants being forced to retire prematurely due to contract obligations around pensions; the Government found a temporary arrangement as a solution to that issue shortly after the article was published. 

Ireland is not alone in dealing with a problem of retention and recruitment with the US military confirming in October, according to CNBC, that the American army fell short of recruitment goals by 25%.

Similar problems have been reported in the UK with the British Government confirming last month that they had fallen short by 35% in projected hires of new personnel. 

Just last week the New Zealand military reported that they were struggling to put ships to sea due to poor recruitment and retention. 

A recent investigation by this website found that there was a problem of recruitment and retention in An Garda Síochána also.

Clancy believes that a societal change in how people view their lives has shifted from the job-for-life model of old to a model where people change careers repeatedly throughout their lives. 

“One of the things that people don’t dwell on too much is we’re in a full employment situation in this country. You know, we have 4.4% unemployment in the state at the moment.

“Anything between 94 or 96% fully employed is considered full employment. That’s just reality of the economic research.

“There are opportunities and gaps throughout the public, civil and private sector and the business areas, and we have a highly valuable commodity in terms of the calibre and quality of people we have in our organisation,” he explained. 

52503888791_be2acb2c7c_o Lt Gen Clancy has been in the job for just over a year. Irish Defence Forces Irish Defence Forces

Five years

Clancy believes that the change in mindset around employment and viewing employment in five year chunks of time is a key issue. 

“That is a huge challenge to try and incentivise people in a way to restore the organisation coupled that with a different mindset, and a paradigm that exists now with people entering into service or any job these days, the horizon that people look at, I firmly believe that they look to maximum three to five years down the road.

“When I left school a public sector job was a kind of job for life. This generation is different. I’m not saying that’s an excuse for not retaining people but it’s part of the totality of it and I think it’s something that we need to be conscious of as well.”

Clancy stressed that former members who are missing their military life and are contemplating coming back can return and feel welcome.

“It is up to us to sort out and to create conditions to allow people if they want to leave to ensure they know that there is work there if they want to come back,” he added. 

Clancy said that there is a broad effort now in the Defence Forces to enable the return of former members to service and make it a smooth and rapid process. 

“They might consider coming back for a few years to add value back in and to contribute back because most people that are in our organisation, serving our organisation, take great pride in the service that they have given us.

“When they actually have maybe gone out and and on the other side of the fence feel like they want to come back, I want to make sure people understand that,” he added. 

The military leader said he accepts that people are being enticed away for greater pay in the private sector but, repeatedly through out the interview, he spoke of the significant sense of purpose found in military life. 

Clancy is also keen to stress that he intends on expanding the Reserve and using that for people who wish to serve on a part-time basis. 

The Chief of Staff said that he is now working on a permanent command staff to lead the Reserves and focus on rejuvenating their place in the Defence Forces. 

He said that any growth in the use of Reserves would require a legislative framework to protect the employer, the reservist and the Defence Forces and he said that is something that could be worked on in the future. 

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