Army finds its recruiting methods outdated in wake of missing goal

The Army fell short of meeting its recruitment goals for 2018 by about 6,500 soldiers and now the service is swinging for the fences to meet its aims in 2019.

The Army will step up its efforts in 22 cities across the nation, including areas not known for joining the military like San Francisco, Boston and Seattle.

“We are going to target these 22 cities to surge into those cities with a focused recruiting campaign throughout the year,” Gen. Stephen Townsend, Army Training and Doctrine Command leader, told reporters Tuesday at the Association of the United States Army Conference in Washington, D.C.

Recruitment efforts will also go into big cities in areas the Army considers its strongholds like Texas and Georgia. Townsend said the service saw places like Dallas and Atlanta falling off in recruitment.

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“Even though we have performed well in that area, there are cities where we have underperformed, where the population is growing the most,” Townsend said.

The service planned to recruit 76,500 soldiers in 2018, but could only muster 70,000 despite extra bonuses for enlisting and increased waivers for health conditions and criminal issues.

Townsend chalked the shortfall up to the usual issues: a good economy and low unemployment rate. But upon doing a review on the service’s inability to meet its goal, the Army found there were serious systemic problems that may hurt recruiting efforts.

GoArmy.com, the service’s recruiting website, had not been revamped in 10 years, Townsend said. The online face of the Army is something Generation Z — the generation younger than millennials — expects to be engaging and modern.

Another outdated campaign is the Army’s television commercials. The service hasn’t put out a new commercial in two years due to contract disputes and other issues. Townsend said the Army is now looking within for creativity. After sending a call to soldiers, TRADOC received 46 video high-grade submissions.

“Some of these people have skills; for some of them it’s their hobby. They just took video and music and they assembled Army commercials and we’ve had some of these made by sergeants in the Army,” Townsend said.

Those commercials are now in a review process to make sure they are not infringing on copyrights and will soon be shown to recruits for product testing.

Army takes recruiting beyond traditional media

Television and websites are old media, though. Those in prime recruitment age watch Hulu and Netflix and are on social media like Twitch and Instagram. That’s the Army’s next challenge, to broach the social media world in a way that is actually relevant to Gen Z. That means using memes, gifs and hashtags to get young people on board.

“The average age watching the NFL right now is 55-years-old and they can’t track a percentage of 30 and below that are actually watching the NFL. We are getting into the E-sports world right now. We attended the national convention there last week in Los Angeles,” said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, the Army’s recruiting commander.

Townsend said only about 15 percent of the 30 percent of young people qualified to serve in the military are actually interested in joining. But, when they are educated about the benefits and opportunities in the Army, the propensity rate increased to about 50 percent.

That’s why the Army wants to get the word out, but the review only highlighted how it’s currently failing in that mission.

One of the issues the review found and Townsend acknowledged is the Army is operating off a 1970s “industrial model” of recruitment.

The model “requires recruiters to talk to hundreds of applicants just to get an appointment with a handful and then to get a little farther in the process with one or two, to derive one contract for the Army,” Townsend said. “The reason it’s not going to work is traditional strongholds, the Deep South and Midwest … are not where the population is growing the most.”

Townsend said the Army relied on those strongholds to make up for deficits, but as more people move to urban areas the South and Midwest are less reliable.

Compare that structure of recruiting to the Air Force, which is building an online video game for people to play that will assess their skills and then the service can hone in on those IP addresses and hyper-locally recruit those people.

The Army, right now, is doing the opposite, but it wants to change. Muth said the current model will require the Army to talk to 12 million people just to get 85,000 recruits for 2019. That’s a large haul for the 10,294 recruiters the Army employs.