Following reports that the Army may fall short of its recruiting goals, the service’s top officer said the branch remains steadfast in its commitment to reaching its end strength targets but will continue to seek candidates that meet its rigorous qualifications.
“We’re not going to lower standards,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville said Wednesday during an online discussion at the Defense One State of the Army Conference.
In August, the Army reported that it had recruited only 52% of its fiscal year end strength projection and could potentially fall short of the mark by 15,000, due to recruiting shortfalls.
“We are certainly concerned,” McConville said.
Only about 23% of Americans meet enlistment qualifications, down from 29% in recent years.
He added that the challenges of learning under pandemic conditions may have impacted the test results. McConville said that fewer youth have participated in sports in recent years and fitness levels may also have been affected.
The general said that typically two thirds of all prospective recruits pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test which is required to enlist, and currently only one third have passed.
In August, the service introduced its Future Soldier Preparatory Course at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, to help potential recruits meet the academic and physical standards required to enlist. The 90-day pilot program features training focused on achieving required body fat composition and necessary academics before recruits enter basic combat training.
“We want to help them meet the standards of the United States Army,” McConville said.
To better retain its top talent, the Army introduced ServiceNow, a cloud-based, digital platform that automates and connects processes to improve Soldiers’ quality of life. Army leaders believe the program, along with the Army’s new human resource system, Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army will help upgrade work environments to personalize Soldier experiences.
“If we look at just recruiting for how many, then we lose all of those nuances that we’re talking about in terms of the right talent, increasing skills and especially as we are looking to modernize, we’re a technical work force,” said Lt. Col. Kristin Saling, director of the commanding general’s innovation cell at Army Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
The Army has been developing a career mapping and succession planning tool as part of the program which acts as a digital individual development plan tailored to outline and track career progression.
She said the tool will provide links to training schools, educational institutions, tuition assistance, certifications, training schedules and self-initiated assessments. The resource will help Soldiers achieve skills to reach their desired career goals.
“We want people to have an interactive version where they can see where they best fit, where there are opportunities they may not have known about previously, [and] where they can use some of the skills and exercise some of their preferences,” she said.
In an effort to attract more recruits during the summer, the Army had discussed potentially extending tours of recruiters, increasing enlistment bonuses and granting duty station choice options.
McConville said the Army must remain committed to caring for veterans and Soldiers. Additionally, he said, the Army must better educate academic leaders about career opportunities in the branch, which range from jobs in cybersecurity to careers in medical fields. In recent years the Army has sought to recruit Soldiers in the tech and cyber industries.
“The Army is a great pathway to success,” he said. “There’s infinite possibilities. You can do anything you want to do into the Army and we want to give people the option to serve.”
Saling said that the Army must take a holistic approach to retention and keeping talented Soldiers within its ranks. She said that by observing a Soldier’s career progression in the middle of their enlistment or contract and adding value such as career development and training can help a Soldier to recommit to the branch instead of separating.
“It has to be a holistic view,” she said. “You have to take the person into account. The person is the centerpiece, you build an ecosystem around them. The worst thing you can do is just have the person buy a piece of software and not figure if they’re the right match.”