Parents a Barrier to Recruiting, Military Says

Reuters has the news on some disturbing, if not entirely unexpected, news from the armed forces – blaming parents’ unwillingness to recommend military service to their children, the military is instead shifting it’s advertising efforts towards, well, kids, hoping to build a positive image and enlist peer pressure in their efforts to meet recruiting targets.

It’s not likely to work.

Consider the Navy, for instance. Not necessarily as glamorous as the Army or Air Force, I believe the general impression is that it’s the “safest” of the four main branches of the military, as far as not getting blown up by an IED or killed by a sniper goes. A recent presentation by their recruiting command (1.85MB PowerPoint file, or 928KB PDF file) lays out the bad news in no uncertain terms:

Percentage of youths ineligible for Navy service

As you can see, 72% of the youth population aren’t qualified for service in the Navy, even with their relaxed standards. Worse yet, of the 2.7 million who are qualified, just 220,000 are well-disposed – “propensed”, in military jargon – towards a career in the United States Navy. That’s twelve percent, and, as we’ll see in a moment, might actually be something to be proud of. The problem, it’s clear, is one of perceptions. Rightly or wrongly, youth today don’t see service in the USN as such an exciting opportunity:
perceptions of youth towards military and civilian careers

Nine percent say serving in the military is “something you can be proud of,” and an equal amount describe it as earning the respect of important people in their lives. Just seven percent think it would receive approval from their parents. By those numbers, actually having twelve percent of eligible enlistees well-disposed towards naval service seems like quite the accomplishment of marketing. Nonetheless, it’s clear that something must be done, not just in the Navy, but across all branches of service.

The Army is much more blunt when considering their recruiting problems, as a slide from this presentation (9.2MB PowerPoint file, or this 4.2MB PDF version) shows:

Today's U.S. Army recruiting market

Almost three-quarters of youth are ineligible for even Army service, sure, I get that. But blaming the media, and questioning the patriotism of Americans, as excuses for poor recruiting prospects? That doesn’t seem like a strategy with great odds of improving the situation, if you ask me.

Targeting kids’ peers, parents, and other “influencers” with the same old tired propaganda doesn’t seem like a winnable strategy to improve recruiting numbers. The military – be it the Army, the Navy, the Marines – aren’t really making an effort to address the concerns they’ve already identified among potential recruits. Rather, they’re evidently deciding to stick with the same macho, gung-ho advertising that’s clearly been working so well lately, only more of it. Appealing to youths’ hearts isn’t going to win over their minds, and that is where the issues clearly lie.

Look at the statistics up there again. Teenagers and college-age youth emphatically don’t want what they perceive the military is offering. Yet, faced with the opportunity to either make fundamental changes to become more attractive, or at least try to improve perceptions of certain areas that can quite clearly be seen as criticisms, the military is instead slapping a new coat of paint on the old “we’ll make you strong and proud” campaign and bringing it out for another tour, this time as the “we’ll make your (friend/brother/sister/son/daughter/student/team member) strong and proud” campaign. I don’t think it’s going to work in the least bit, but time will tell, I suppose.

Published in: General, Security | on May 12th, 2007| Comments Off on Parents a Barrier to Recruiting, Military Says

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