Since the government announced its ambitious recruitment uplift target, late last year, of 20,000 frontline police officers across the UK by 2023, we’ve been openly discussing the challenges and opportunities that this will bring to the sector.

In recent reports published, it has now been indicated that this initial figure, may in fact fall short of what is required, with Home Office and police officials saying that within the next three years, it may be over 50,000, partly due to the number of officers expected to leave the service over that time period.

The reports explain that recruitment has been happening ‘at pace’ in many forces, but the number needed to reverse this trend of depleting officer numbers since 2010, could be significantly higher than anticipated.

There are thousands of officers expected to retire over the next few years, and additionally, retention could be a challenge that results in this new recruitment drive being more difficult than expected.

Furthermore, the reports state that campaigners have warned the government it has ‘no hope’ of even reaching it’s 20,000 target unless it gives officers a minimum starting salary of £24,177.

Toby Lindsay, our Principal Consultant for Leadership, Management and Organisation Development commented: “Whilst the starting salary is a clear priority in attracting a diverse and broad range of applicants, which is vital for effective policing, this then provides challenges across a number of other areas. Policing needs to be seen to be relevant, rewarding and attractive as a career for a diverse group of young people with many different expectations and needs in today’s workforce.”

As specialists in policing workforce solutions, these reports have prompted us to foster conversations about how we can help forces across England and Wales achieve this bold vision, whilst understanding that there are many layers to police recruitment and retention which must be considered.

First and foremost, there is an extensive training requirement for recruiting at such a large scale, and we’re conscious that current figures show that only one in 10 candidates who apply to join the police force is successful – meaning there would need to be over half a million applications, to reach the 53,000 goal.

It’s important then that HR and workforce managers in the police sector take into account their entire workforce ambitions when recruiting any role in such volumes. There are complex questions and varying scenarios, and the police forces need to understand these, and quickly. A clear workforce development strategy is key to make this a success, covering all aspects of recruitment, training, upskilling and retention.

Some questions we believe the police force need to be considering:

Could the workforce grow through other channels such as apprenticeships?

Kit Salt, our Apprenticeships End Point Assessment Services Manager said: “Whilst the introduction of a degree apprenticeship as an entry route into policing will go some way in helping to achieve the recruitment targets, finding the right balance between academic learning and learning on the job may also contribute to pressure points and will need to be carefully managed. 

“However, the ‘earn while you learn’ degree apprenticeship route may also be viewed as an attractive alternative to a degree first route and support the recruitment of a diverse and inclusive workforce for the future.”

Jane Robertson, our Qualifications and Product Development Manager added: “Alongside the apprenticeship routes for new entrants to policing, it is worth considering the continuing benefits of nationally recognised qualifications to the sector.  Pre-entry qualifications can help prepare new entrants and qualifications are recognised as being an integral element of some apprenticeships, such as the Police Community Support Office apprenticeship. 

How can retention be increased, to ensure recruitment is successful and impactful on increasing the workforce?

Toby commented: “Achieving recruitment targets will undoubtedly be a challenge and then the job of creating an integrated, diverse and relevant force for all has only just begun. The sheer number of new recruits and leavers will mean the force demographic is radically changed. A culture of inclusion, celebration of difference and leadership that brings a diverse community together will be vital in ensuring that those who join, do indeed stay.”

Could existing police staff be trained and upskilled?

Jane added: “Competence based qualifications, where quality is maintained through robust quality assurance of delivery and assessment, allow existing police staff to develop and evidence their skills in the workplace, encourage retention and progression, and give employers confidence that their staff are trained to a consistent standard.

These are of course not exhaustive. We also need to look at how administrative roles will need to be grown to support the recruitment and training of new police officers. These reports focus on police officers, however, it is vital that constabularies also consider the role of how police staff, who support and deliver a wide range of operational activities in the criminal justice sector, will be impacted upon.

We’d like to hear from police forces who would like to share their experiences around recruitment and retention and how together we can support the sector deliver such a large-scale change as this one. Please get in touch. Additionally, please ‘save the date’ of April 28, to join us at Birmingham City Council House, for our next Policing Symposium: ‘Changing times…changing Practice’, where we are inviting professionals from across the justice sector to join us in a day of learning, networking and exploration of how Organisation Development, Change and Learning practice needs to move, develop and shift to support a diverse, modern and changing police force in a diverse, modern and ever-changing world.

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