BURNLEY has long been a prolific recruiting area for the Army and that tradition is as strong today as ever.
The Burnley Express spoke to the British Army careers office in the town about the challenges the military faces in recruiting young people today against the backdrop of war in Afghanistan and government spending cuts, but also the opportunities a life in the Army can offer.
It is those opportunities, both in terms of career and personal development, that are attracting as many young people from the Burnley area as ever according to Colour Sgt Tam Miller who has worked at the office in Keirby Walk for five years.
“There are 10,500 vacancies this year across the whole of the British Army and in Burnley we have been set a target of between 90 and 100 new recruits.
“The recruiting period runs from April to April and we already have 15 young people allocated before the period even begins.
“Burnley has always been a very pro-Army town and has always been a big recruiting area for us. Last year we had 580 people coming through our doors. Of those, 85 were allocated to different regiments and our target figure was 70.
“Around 60% of our vacancies are in combat roles, such as infantry or artillery, but we recruit for a wide variety of roles including officer training.”
The Duke of Lancaster’s and the Scots Guards are the two most popular regiments, though four have enrolled so far this year for officer training at Wellbeck.
And it is not just young men putting their names forward – around 35% of recruits from Burnley are women.
One young woman wanting to join the Army is 15-year-old Emma Shaw who visited the office with her mum Rayna Webster.
Emma’s interest in signing up was sparked by an Army careers visit to her school, Shuttleworth College, and she is now hoping to begin training for the Royal Logistics Corps as a driver in September.
Her opinion that a career in the Army and the chance to learn qualifications is preferable to further and higher education is characteristic of many young people in the area today who see rising tuition fees and a lack of jobs as a barrier to an ordinary life on “civvy street”.
Colour Sgt Miller added: “There is no doubt that the current economic problems are prompting young people to look at a career in the Army, but it really can change people’s lives for the better.
“I gain a great deal of job satisfaction from seeing young people improve themselves, some of them coming from the wrong side of the tracks, to developing into worthwhile young people who are making a real difference in the world.
“We had one 18-year-old lad from Burnley who came in off the streets and was literally homeless. He passed his training with flying colours and is now in the Scots Guards fresh from a tour of Afghanistan. There are lots of similar stories where young people have turned their lives around.”
Warrant Officer Johnny Greechan revealed that even the daily news bulletins of heavy fighting and British deaths in Afghanistan had not deterred young Burnley people from seeking to join the Army.
He said: “We have a lot of youngsters coming in with their parents which for us is ideal. The Army can be dangerous and we don’t try to hide that but British soldiers are highly trained and we have a rigorous selection process.”
Recent government announcements that the Army will be cut by 5,000 personnel over the next five years will not affect recruitment for the foreseeable future, according to the careers office, because of retirement and people leaving.
Colour Sgt Miller added: “A career in the Army is challenging but ultimately worthwhile. It broadens horizons and teaches valuable skills which will last for life. The kids from Burnley are superb and I’m positive we will continue to produce good soldiers from the town.”