CommentaryMiddle East

Gulf armed forces urgently need new HR models

Gulf Cooperation Council countries have invested heavily in military equipment. Now they need to invest in people, Haroon Sheikh writes

Haroon Sheikh

The militaries of Gulf Cooperation Council countries are under strain because of ongoing, high tempo operations. In addition to the wear and tear on equipment and the depletion of stocks, GCC armed forces are finding that their military human resources models are coming up short. GCC military HR models are a legacy of peacetime and stability, they were not designed for an era of continuous operations and technological disruption. Too often, GCC armed forces do not have the right people with the appropriate skills. Unlike equipment and material, which militaries can buy easily, they cannot procure skills and human capital in the same way.

For over a decade, GCC governments have invested heavily in equipping their armed forces, but they have not invested to the same extent in their military human capital. Training has concentrated on “frontline operators.” While, critical, this is not enough. For the rest of personnel, however, the HR approach is shaped by legacy models, dating back to the 1980s. Consequently, the current model cannot cope, leading to morale, motivation, and performance issues.

GCC militaries know that they must rethink their military HR models. At present, they are not bringing the right people into the services, when compared to the private sector. They are not giving personnel the appropriate training to deal with the complexity and breadth of military tasks.

What professional development is available does not allow personnel to obtain the greatest benefit from their modern equipment, or match updated doctrine, or deal with increasingly adept adversaries. In particular, there is insufficient development of professional capabilities, such as IT, logistics, and leadership. This affects the quality of operational, business, and procurement decisions.

Once in, personnel are not put to optimal use, assigned to roles or locations, which do not give them sufficient professional development. This leads to issues at retirement, when ex-service personnel are unable to find new jobs.

Adding to the challenge is the broader military context. Technology is changing rapidly, thanks to autonomous vehicles and cyber capabilities. Thise means that GCC militaries can no longer ask friendly countries to second personnel as they have done in the past – such as pilots from Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan.

Bahrain Defense Forces paratrooper salutes as he jumps
A Bahrain Defense Forces paratrooper salutes as he jumps from a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, October 18, 2017. Image: Joanne Stocker

GCC governments should develop new HR models for each element of their defense sectors: the armed forces, defense industries, and the ministry of defense. Each should provide a distinct career path. To introduce these models, GCC governments must plan long-term and use performance management in every aspect of the new HR models.

New HR models should have four common features. First, they must aim to recruit and foster top talent throughout. They can do this with recruitment campaigns that inform and entice, that communicate that working in defense is appealing and a good career move. Each country and organization should elaborate a pitch to potential recruits that includes patriotism, career development, comradeship, and a desire to help those in distress.

Such communication with potential recruits should use the latest technology and marketing techniques, as the U.S. Army has done successfully for years. Deploying leading methods to recruit the best talent means using them properly in-service. Too often GCC militaries get uniformed personnel to undertake non-operational roles – a waste of scarce national resources. By contrast, Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. staff their ministries of defense overwhelmingly with civilians (at all levels). For example, they have brought in external leaders to become the Chief Information Officer, as Australia has done, rather than wait to promote the right person.

Second, they must commit to education and professional development, with top-class training on offer, so that GCC militaries can operate at the highest level. All training should aim to be specialized by profession. Military training must provide certification so that personnel can advance in their careers and so that planners and manpower staff know what skills their armed forces possess. In particular, this means giving personnel IT skills, along with business and technical knowledge. Professional training has to apply to all levels of the defense sector, especially those dealing with financial management, which is often rudimentary, and logistics.

GCC militaries need approaches that overcome their structural problems of small populations. They can develop personnel capabilities by introducing partnerships with other armed forces and the private sector. They can ensure their courses have external accreditation, which attests to their quality. The U.K., for example, allows service members to take courses that are validated by the Chartered Management Institute or the City and Guilds of the London Institute. GCC militaries can fund personnel to study for vocational skills with external providers, or can take advantage of digital technology to allow for distance training.

Third, they must offer a professional career. GCC militaries must get the most from their small personnel establishments given current operations and the demands of technological change. A career in the military must therefore come with an attractive value proposition, merit-based promotion, programs to ensure physical and mental well-being, and skills development that can compete with the private sector. GCC militaries should be willing to hire specialists from the civilian world and give them relatively senior military rank-equivalents. This can tempt civilians to join the defense world, in particular by providing similar influence and responsibility to what they are accustomed in the civilian world.

Fourth, they must get personnel ready for inevitable retirement and rejoining society. GCC retirees can, for example, contribute to the growing defense sector. To do so, retirees need the knowledge and skills to succeed in civilian life, whether with job advice, job seeking practices, pensions, or transition benefits. The U.K., for example, has a public–private partnership to help those leaving with transition benefits.

New GCC military HR models can do more than meet the needs of today’s security environment. They can ensure that GCC militaries are ready to meet the future requirements with personnel that are as valuable as other assets.


Haroon SheikhHaroon Sheikh is a Dubai-based Partner with Strategy& Middle East (formerly Booz & Company), part of the PwC network. He is the leader of the firm’s defense and operations practices in the Middle East, serving military clients across the region on a wide range of logistics and supply chain improvement strategies.

All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of The Defense Post.


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