The Military Recruiting Crisis: What Can We Do?

Soldier smiling, military recruiting crisis

By Wes O’Donnell, Veteran U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force

This is the first article in our five-part series on solving the ongoing military recruiting crisis. In each article, I’ll explore a possible solution to the ongoing challenge.

The strength and preparedness of a nation’s military are essential components in maintaining national security and safeguarding its interests.

In the United States, Congress has carefully sized our military so that it can effectively meet our foreign policy goals, including defending our allies and responding to humanitarian missions in the event of a disaster.

However, in recent years, the U.S. has encountered a pressing challenge: a military recruiting crisis that threatens to undermine our very national security.

This crisis has raised concerns among policymakers and military leaders as they grapple with the underlying causes of the problem and potential consequences.

Among those consequences, insufficient manpower may lead to overextended deployments and increased operational stress on serving personnel. This, in turn, can negatively impact retention rates as experienced personnel may opt to leave the military in search of less demanding career paths.

A lack of skilled personnel could also compromise the military’s ability to adapt to evolving threats and utilize cutting-edge technologies effectively as more young people seek employment in the private sector.

Several factors have converged to create the current recruiting crisis, each influencing the supply and demand dynamics within the military. From economic factors like a tight labor market to demographic and cultural shifts including young people who may not fully understand the military’s mission, the Department of Defense (DoD) must explore unique solutions to the ongoing recruiting challenges.

Addressing the military recruiting crisis requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach that considers the diverse challenges it poses. In this first article in our five-part series, we’ll explore enhanced marketing:

Enhancing Recruitment Marketing

Improving public perception of military service through targeted marketing campaigns not only highlights the diverse career opportunities, benefits, and personal growth potential within the military but also explains what the common values of the U.S. and its allies are.

By improving public perception of military service and highlighting its numerous benefits and opportunities, the armed forces can attract a diverse pool of talented and committed individuals. Here are some key aspects of enhancing recruitment marketing:

Tailored Messaging and Targeted Campaigns: Understanding the interests and motivations of potential recruits is essential for crafting effective recruitment messages. Gen Z is a unique generation of idealistic young people – if the DoD can craft a marketing message around the meaning of service, we may see better recruiting results from the passionate, socially aware groups of young people currently eligible for the military.

By segmenting the audience based on demographics and interests, the military can create targeted campaigns that resonate with specific groups, such as recent graduates, individuals seeking career advancement, or those interested in specialized technical roles. But targeting is easy – it’s the messaging that’s hard, and the U.S. needs to make sure they’re addressing the bigger picture of what military service means.

Showcasing Diverse Career Paths: Many people may not be aware of the wide range of career opportunities available in the military beyond combat roles. Indeed, only 10 percent of servicemembers actually see any combat.

Recruitment marketing should showcase the diverse roles within the armed forces, including cybersecurity, engineering, healthcare, logistics, and intelligence, among others. Emphasizing the potential for career growth and advancement can attract candidates seeking long-term professional development.

Highlighting Education and Training Benefits: One of the significant advantages of military service is access to education and training opportunities. Recruitment marketing should emphasize the potential for gaining valuable skills and qualifications that can be utilized both within the military and in civilian careers after service.

While student loan debt is a hot talking point these days, many military members and veterans, myself included, earn four-year and six-year degrees without spending a penny out of pocket.

Promoting Personal Growth and Leadership Development: Military service offers unique experiences that foster personal growth, resilience, and leadership skills. Highlighting the opportunities for personal development, teamwork, and leadership can be compelling to candidates seeking meaningful and transformative experiences.

Leveraging Social Media and Digital Platforms: Social media has become a powerful tool for recruitment marketing. Engaging content, such as videos, testimonials, and success stories, can be shared across various platforms to reach a broader audience. Social media also allows for direct interaction with potential recruits, answering their questions and addressing their concerns promptly.

In fact, a U.S. Army soldier went viral on TikTok for making videos mocking ‘Gen Zs on the battlefield’ and frankly it’s hilarious. This type of fun, approachable social media marketing is exactly what the DoD needs more of.

Collaborating with Influencers and Ambassadors: Partnering with influencers and military ambassadors who have had positive experiences in the armed forces can amplify the recruitment message. Their stories and insights can resonate with potential recruits, providing authentic and relatable perspectives on military life and career opportunities.

Engaging with Schools and Community Events: Establishing relationships with educational institutions, such as high schools, colleges, and vocational training centers, can create a direct link to potential recruits. Participating in career fairs, workshops, and community events allows the military to engage with young individuals and their families, providing them with valuable information about military service.

For those without a high school diploma, Citizens High School (CHS) offers a pathway to military service for young people who want to join. How many people walk into a recruiter’s office without a diploma? If the DoD partnered with schools like CHS, it could relieve some of the pressure and help the U.S. meet its annual recruiting goals.

Emphasizing Diversity and Inclusion: Recruitment marketing should reflect the military’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Highlighting opportunities for individuals of all backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities fosters a more inclusive and welcoming image, appealing to a broader range of potential recruits.

When I served in both the Army and the Air Force, we were instantly exposed to every ethnicity and background you can imagine and then expected to perform at a high level as a team. U.S. military servicemembers are diversity experts.

Enhancing recruitment marketing is essential for overcoming the military recruiting crisis. By showcasing the diverse career paths, education benefits, personal growth opportunities, and the inclusive nature of military service, the armed forces can attract a qualified and motivated pool of candidates.

The military recruiting crisis is a complex and urgent issue that requires immediate attention from policymakers, military leaders, and society at large.

By understanding the factors contributing to the crisis and implementing proactive solutions, nations can strive to maintain a robust and capable military force, capable of safeguarding national security in an ever-changing world.

Only through collective effort and innovative approaches can we successfully navigate the challenges posed by this critical issue.

Visit our page for more information about CHS’s pathway to military service.

In the next part of our ongoing series, I’ll look at modernizing military compensation and benefits packages.

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