Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, KCB, CBE, DFC, ADC, MA is the Chief of the Air Staff, commanding the Royal Air Force. He leads around 35000 Regular and Reserve personnel, and 5000 Civil Servants.
The RAF celebrates its 100 th anniversary in 2018.
Sir Stephen Hillier is accountable for the safe and effective operation of over 700 manned and unmanned aircraft. He has held key appointments at the Ministry of Defence.
One of Sir Stephen Hillier’s recent command appointments was as Air Officer Commanding 2 Group from 2008 to 2010, responsible for the RAF’s ISTAR, Air Transport, Air- Refuelling, Force Protection and Search and Rescue capabilities.
A Tornado GR4 pilot and flying instructor, his operational and command experience ranges from squadron pilot to theatre commander of British Forces. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for operations over Iraq in 1999,
and the United States Bronze Star for Iraq operations in 2003.
Sir Stephen Hillier invited the Asian Voice into his office at the Ministry of Defence, Whitehall.
From the start, he wanted to convey his sincerity towards making the RAF more diverse. He told us that the number of ethnic minority personnel in the RAF is approximately 5%, and that he would like to continue to increase this figure by the end of the current recruiting year.
“This is a significant issue for us,” said Sir Stephen. “5% is not a figure I’m happy with, though it is considerably improved from five years ago. We need to do better, and be representative of the nation we serve. We recruit young
people, by and large, and develop them through their careers.”
Sir Stephen mentioned that in many parts of the country, ethnic minority children numbered 30%.
“If I can’t recruit better from that 30%, then that’s a big problem for me.”
The RAF Chief feels that it is a challenge to get those young people “through the door and interested in the RAF
as a career.”
Sir Stephen Hillier explained that the force has an average retention of 15-16 years and a reputation for recruiting on
the basis of merit and potential, not on background.
One drawback, Sir Stephen feels, is that “not everyone knows about us in the way that they might have done in the
past. So we need to spend more time in communities, in schools.”
Moving the RAF Message into communities
Sir Stephen feels that the way to get the message across is through individual contact.
“I have to make sure that the BAME communities already within the service are part of that because there have to be people that they can relate to, role models that make them say, ‘Ah yes, I can be that person in future’...we need to make sure we listen to the communities and say- what would help us explain and relate better?...what preconceptions might you have about us as an organisation? We need to listen to what people are telling us.”
Sir Stephen also raised the interesting fact that the number of ethnic minorities in the RAF Reserves is higher than it is
in the regular force. He says that this is perhaps because the Reserves are in a fixed location, rather than mobile around the country. The Air Cadets, also, have a higher percentage of ethnic members than the regular RAF does.
Sir Stephen says that the RAF needs more senior officers from a BAME background. It takes time to develop and rise, so the BAME officers at two-star rank have already been with the RAF for 30-odd years.
It’s why, as Sir Stephen Hillier looks forward, he wants to create a talent pool of ethnic staff that will stay, train and progress. His aide quoted one two- star and three one- star BAME RAF senior officers currently serving.
What the RAF offers
Sir Stephen Hilllier says that the organisation has a lot to offer and people can join in many capacities.
“We have to be an organisation that can operate worldwide in some fairly austere places. We have to have the whole
range; doctors, dentists, engineers, pilots, intelligence analysts, linguists etc. Our whole ethos, reputation and tradition is about taking people who have potential and realising that potential through education and training. Giving them opportunities in technical skills, leadership, personal development and teamwork.”
The RAF chief has a record of being people-centred. He has three years in the appointment and defines his future success as being “if we are still able to recruit, train and retain the people that we need to ensure the Air Force remains successful... we need to make sure that we provide the challenge, reward, excitement, and sense of purpose, which will keep them in the RAF for long periods of time.”