Chapter 5 - Human Resource Planning and Recruitment (Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage)

Chapter 5 – Planning for and Recruiting Human Resources (Fundamentals of HRM)

Referrals are one of the best sources of recruits for a number of reasons, but at some point, can you have too much of a good thing? When it comes to military service, there is an increasing perception that the applicant pool from which the U.S. Armed Services draws from is too small and getting too narrow, especially when one evaluates this against the diverse skill set required to engage in modern combat on a digital battlefield – one that might involve drones, chemicals, and even nuclear weapons.

With respect to geography, the applicant pool is narrow when one considers the counties where recruits come from. Those who sign up for military service overwhelmingly come from counties in the South and a scattering of communities near military bases. The South, where the culture of military service runs deep and military installations are plentiful, produces 20 percent more recruits than would be expected, based on its population. In contrast, the Northeast, which has very few military bases and a lower percentage of veterans, produce 20 percent fewer. Military leaders have sounded the alarm over the growing gulf between communities that serve and those that do not for years, warning that relying on a small number of counties where the tradition of military service is deeply ingrained is unsustainable.

This narrow pool then becomes narrower when one considers that the single best predictor of who will consider joining the military is a person’s familiarity with the military, and the best predictor of this is whether or not the person has had family members that served. Thus, within a narrow range of counties, the pool becomes even smaller and focused on narrow set of families. More specifically, in 2019, 79 percent of Army recruits reported having a family member who served and in over 30 percent of the cases it was a parent. In a nation where less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military, this pool of applicants in getting very, very small and totally unrepresentative of the country as a whole. The Army alone needs to recruit close to 70,000 people a year and this is challenging when it is basically being staffed like a family business.

The Army is well aware that it cannot sustain recruitment numbers by relying on such a narrow applicant pool, and has tried to broaden its appeal with glossy advertisements on social media platforms. It has also tried to make inroads in more liberal communities where they emphasize the college benefits and career training in medical and tech fields. Using these kinds of tactics to expand the applicant pool is critical. As Anthony M. Kurta, secretary of defense for personnel and readiness has stated, “the lack of knowledge and the inability of the general population to identify with those who serve threatens our ability to recruit the number of quality youth with the needed skill sets to maintain our advantage.”

Sources: C. Woody, “The Army is Thinking about the Threat of Nuclear War Again and Wants to Make Sure it has the Right People to Deal with It, Business Insider, January 17, 2020; D. Phillips, “Who Signs Up to Fight? Makeup of U.S. Recruits Shows Glaring Disparity,” The New York Times Online, January 10, 2020; B. Kesling, “Army Deploys Videogames to Reach Recruits Amid Pandemic,” The Wall Street Journal Online, May 17, 2020; B. Kesling, “U.S. Army Tries New Recruiting Tactics After Missing Targets,” The Wall Street Journal Online, September 17, 2019. 

Questions for Students

  1. How is recruiting for the military qualitatively different than recruiting someone for a more traditional job or occupation?     
  2. How has the past success that the military has had recruiting from military families become a liability as the organization prepares for its future, and what can be done to get recruiters to become more risk seeking when it comes to reaching out to different communities?   

Note for Instructors

The NBC News six minute video “US military faces historic struggle with recruitment” from  discusses why the military is having difficulty recruiting and impact on military effectiveness (military readiness). The PBS NewsHour eight minute video discusses proposed solutions to the recruiting problem. You can use this video as a follow-up after discussing the questions and ask students to note the proposed solutions and evaluate which of them they believe will be most effective. If you have students who served in the military in your class you can ask them for their perspective on the recruiting crisis. For example, what’s attractive and unattractive about serving in the military.