Army investing in IT for recruiters after failure to meet 2018 goals

Back-end IT upgrades and more "virtual" recruiting are part of the Army's plan to address recruiting shortfalls.

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After falling short of its 2018 recruiting goal, the Army launched a top-to-bottom review of the procedures it uses to attract new soldiers. The diagnosis: major technology and process shortcomings that it’s determined to fix.

For the active duty force, the Army cut its 2019 recruiting goal to 68,000 soldiers, down from the 76,500 target it aimed for last year. Current projections show the service will achieve the more modest number by the end of this fiscal year, but leaders say they know they also need to improve the system to boost the numbers amid a strong private sector economy.

The review, led by the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) and a separate survey of recruiters themselves both pointed to technology shortcomings. The service was way behind, both in terms of the back end business systems recruiters use to process new accessions, and the tools it uses to reach out to new prospects.

“For example, we know that the young men and women that we would like to invite to serve in our Army reside on social media, but our ability to gain access to those young men and women was extremely restricted,” Lt. Gen. Theodore Martin, TRADOC’s deputy commanding general told an audience at the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual symposium in Huntsville, Alabama. “Recruiters, for example, could not have social media applications on their government phones. All of that changed in the blink of an eye.”

With the policy shackles removed, the Army wanted to see just how effective the social media recruiting track could be. It assigned a three-person team to work on nothing but “lead generation” via online platforms.

The initial results are extremely promising, said Maj. Gen. Frank Muth, the commander of Army Recruiting Command.

“These guys and gals go on the digital network and boost on Facebook, boost on Instagram, boost on Google, do everything they can to push out the message and generate leads and send them right down to the recruiters at the zip code level where they can follow up,” he said. “We have tracked the return on investment on that, and it’s generated 100 contracts for the first quarter. That is an amazing amount from just three people on the digital network.”

The review also highlighted the need for the Army to revamp its own recruiting website. As of last year, it had gone a decade without a major overhaul; it’s been through two “incremental” upgrades since then.

Recruiters also complained about the IT systems they use on a daily basis to track prospective recruits and process new enlistments. The main one — the Accessioning Information Technology Mission System — had gone more than a decade without a significant tech refresh.

“So imagine a computing system designed 10 to 15 years ago trying to compete in today’s market,” Martin said. “Now we’re rapidly closing in on the new system, the Accessions Information Environment. It will be based off a commercial off the shelf system, tooled and tailored to the requirements of the United States Army. The Army had to make choices and investments, and they are investing heavily into the accessions arena.”

The service’s 2020 budget requests a $37 million increase for recruiting, an 11% bump from 2019 levels, most of which would go toward the deployment of the new Accessions Information Environment and other recruiting-related IT infrastructure.

Muth said the reason the Army is paying so much attention to IT upgrades is that it’s vital that its recruiters make the most efficient use of their time.

The recruiting force is, itself, very large: 10,000 people across 1,400 separate locations. But Army data going back 40 years shows they’ll need to make contact with many, many more 18-24-year-olds than they end up convincing.

“The data shows that if we’re going to recruit 85,000, we have to look eyeball-to-eyeball with 14 million [prospects],” Muth said. “Out of 14 million, 500,000 agree to do an interview, but only 400,000 actually show up. 250,000 of those agree to test. Out of that 250,000, only 150,000 actually pass the test. And then out of that, you actually get 85,000 that will contract. 75,000 will actually assess that year, because we always have to have a debt pool going into the next year. That’s how you get 75,000 people: Talking to 14 million.”

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