Army recruiters are facing challenges in meeting enlistment goals and one of the reasons is the lack of access to high schools. The Secretary of the Army, Christine Wormuth, recently visited Chicago to speak with students, school leaders, recruiters, and others involved in ROTC or junior ROTC programs. In these meetings, the recruiting leaders told her that they need better access to high school students, but they often face an unfriendly atmosphere with skeptical school leaders who do not see the Army as a good career option for their students.
This is not an isolated problem for the Army, as all military services are struggling to compete for young people in a tight job market where private companies often offer better pay and benefits. The coronavirus pandemic has also shut down recruiters’ access to public events and schools where they could find prospects, further complicating the problem. Additionally, just 23% of young people meet the military’s fitness, educational, and moral requirements, with many disqualified for reasons ranging from medical issues to criminal records and tattoos.
There is also a knowledge gap that needs to be addressed. Many young people do not see the Army as a prime career choice because they do not want to die or get injured, deal with the stress of military life, or put their lives on hold. Army leaders must work to dispel these misconceptions and educate young people about the jobs and opportunities that military service can provide. This may involve improving the Army’s website and social media presence or working with influencers to promote the Army as a career option.
Wormuth heard a litany of challenges during her Chicago sessions, from the issue of school access and competition with colleges to confusing Army websites, limited social media, and a general lack of public knowledge about the jobs and opportunities that military service can provide. The recruiters also face resistance from teachers’ unions and school board members who do not see the value in offering students the military as a career option. In some cases, school officials view the military through a post-Vietnam era lens.
Wormuth and other Army leaders must find creative new ways to attract recruits and ensure that the service has the troops it needs to help defend the nation. They need to address the concerns of skeptical school leaders and improve access to high school students. This may involve working with the central district office instead of individual schools or building relationships with school officials to better understand their concerns.
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