WASHINGTON — One of the key pillars of transforming the Army of 2030 is investment in people, including Soldiers, their family members and civilians.
Army leaders at this year’s annual meeting of the Association of the U.S. Army held a panel Oct. 12 titled “In a War for Talent — Recruiting, Retention and Opportunity,” where panelists discussed the Army’s efforts to reach and maintain its recruiting and retention goals.
“We are in a war for talent, and when I think about the Army, it is people — every Soldier, every family member, every Department of the Army civilian, and every Soldier for life matters,” said Gen. James McConville, Chief of Staff of the Army. “We have opportunities to offer men and women unlike any other place. We want to make sure that we’re taking advantage of the talent we have in the military.”
“Right now, 83% of the young men and women coming into the Army are coming from military families,” he said. “However, only 23% of Americans are qualified to serve. We are not going to lower standards. Quality is more important than quantity.”
During the panel, several Army leaders spoke about the Army’s recruiting and retention efforts and took questions from the audience.
“We’re very pleased to say that across all of the services, that we recruited about 170,000 American young men and women to come into the military, and we’re excited that they are about to join their brother and sisters in arms. But we have a lot more work to do,” said Stephanie Miller, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense of Military Personnel Policy.
Over the last year, the Army met and exceeded its retention goals. However, it did not meet its recruitment goals.
“In looking at the crisis we’ve had, we have seen opportunities at both the national and local marketing [levels] and how to leverage that,” said Gen. Gary Brito, commanding general of U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
“Army is not the only service that is facing this challenge, it’s all the services,” Miller said. “For those of us that really work this problem every day, we will say fiscal year 2023 is looking just as challenging, if not more, than 2022. One of the biggest challenges we have is just the [lack of] propensity to serve.”
Some people today do not have the Army in minds when they become old enough to enlist, and part of joining is knowing it is an option.
“It’s not necessarily that they’re saying no — N-O. It’s just that they don’t know what those opportunities are and how we can meet their drive for passion, for purpose, for relationships and a clear path to success,” Miller said.
To reach a wider audience, the Army has been looking into leveraging different types of media to get their message to potential recruits.
“We’re looking to be a more precision deliverer of our messaging and our strategy,” Miller said.
“If you work with the generation that we’re trying to recruit from or have them in your family, you know that they are very market savvy, very attuned to filtering out the messages that they’re not really interested in,” Miller said. “They’re very sensitive to what is not organic content, and they have the ability to tailor the content they are seeing to a greater degree than we’ve ever seen.”
“We have to work harder than ever to make sure that our marketing and our strategies are getting in front of people where we count success in a matter of seconds,” she added.
Marketing isn’t the only way the Army communicates its story to potential recruits.
In the past, recruiters would often visit educational institutions to talk to students about serving in the Army. But, due to the pandemic and some other factors, it has been difficult to get the Army story to those audiences.
“We’ve really stepped away from that high school market. Part of that is losing that connective tissue with them over the pandemic years, where they were largely operating remotely,” Miller said. There is a focus on secondary education, and some people see serving in the military instead of going to a secondary school as not being successful.
“We certainly believe that going into the military, whether that is the officer path or enlisted path, is going to drag you along the path to success,” Miller said. “We need to do a better job of explaining that.”
In addition to people not wanting to serve or not knowing about serving, some want to serve but just can’t meet the Army standards.
“I believe young people today want purpose, they want us to recognize their talents, and they want us to give them an opportunity for them to grow. The Army is absolutely the right place to do that” McConville said. “We’re going to invest in American youth.”
In August of this year, the Army tested a pilot program called the Future Soldier Preparatory Course to help potential recruits meet Army standards.
“I think that is how we’re going to do business in the future,” McConville said. “We’ve already had about 1,000 kids come through that process, and it gives them an opportunity to beef up their ASVAB scores and get into physical condition. The initial results are very, very impressive. Seventy-five percent of the kids that are coming, that were barely meeting the standards, are doing extremely well.”
The pilot program, which was held at Fort Jackson, provided academic and fitness instruction to assist potential Soldiers to meet Army ASVAB scores and pass the body-fat composition standard.
The Army of 2030 will rely on Soldiers who are highly trained, disciplined and fit to fight. To that end, the Army is transforming the way it recruits as well as retains its Soldiers for the new and ever-evolving battlefield.
“Once we have Soldiers in the Army, we have to retain them,” McConville said. “We basically manage officers and NCOs by two variables: this is their rank, and this is their MOS. That’s not the future. We need to know all their knowledge, skills and behavior. We have so many talented Soldiers, especially in the National Guard and Reserve, that bring incredible talent to us, and we have to manage those.”
The Army of 2030 is focused on assessing overall skills to ensure that Soldiers are matched to positions where they will perform best. Certain programs, some of which have already launched, are designed to curate duty locations and positions that are best for particular Soldiers.
“I want to make sure that, whenever called upon to deploy, that you have all of the men and women to your right and left,” said Maj. Gen. Johnny Davis, commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “When you need to depend on them, you’re not putting an extra weight in your rucksack.”
The challenge for the next year in recruiting is going to be difficult, but Army leaders are positive and ready to build the Army of 2030.
“This is a big, total-team effort, and we will succeed at this,” Brito said. “But, in order to deliver that Army of 2030 and get ready for 2040, we will continue to be innovative in our talent management approaches, and we will turn this recruiting challenge into an opportunity.”