Talk: National Perspectives on the Recruiting Challenge
Speakers: Brig Gen Peter Van der Tuin – Director Human Resources Royal Netherlands Army; Kapitän Stephan Küttler – Federal office for Personnel Management, Bundeswehr (Germany); Colonel Mineyuki Yahata, Chief of G-1 Recruitment of the Ground Staff Office (Japan)
Recruiting woes are borderless. That’s the main takeaway from the final day wrap of DSEI programming during the International Recruiting Conference. Armed forces recruiting leads from the Netherlands, Germany, Japan, and France shared a common issue–the unique characteristics of Generation Z and young people today combined with the unprecedented nature of the labor market.
Brigadier General Peter Van der Tuin illustrated the Dutch Armed Forces’ inopportune recruiting environment. Dutch unemployment has reached historically low rates between 3 and 3.5 percent. The workforce is aging rapidly, and employees routinely “job hop.” One in five Dutch workers are changing jobs annually. The strong labor market threatens the military’s efforts to attract new personnel. Van der Tuin cited the current job boon with “122 vacancies for every 100 people looking for work.”
The Netherlands Armed Forces require an annual intake rate of 7,000 fresh troops. With these conditions at play, the Dutch created new initiatives that show promise on returns. One of these is a dedicated digitally focused recruiting campaign named “Generation D.” Last week, the Dutch Ministry of Defense (MOD) announced the first of 140 “service year” recruits began initial training. Van der Tuin added that the service year program allows 17- to 26-year-olds to experience the military for a year on a voluntary basis. After completion of the year, enlistees can decide to continue service or depart for the civilian workforce.
The program has roots in similar successful endeavors by Finland and Sweden. The MOD is confident the service year will help address the recruiting challenge. The initiative showed early signs of success. According to Van der Tuin the first cohort was overbooked.
The German Armed Forces (Bundeswehr) recruiting program includes nearly 500 career advisors assigned to eight widely spread career centers. When asked about challenges facing the German national recruiting effort, Captain Küttler spoke of similar characteristics of the labor market in Germany and the difficulty of familiarizing the public with military career opportunities.
Küttler explained military applicant numbers have declined in recent years. Many Generation Z applicants don’t meet physical standards, and young people desire different things from employment than previous generations. As a result, German recruiting is “faster and more proactive, authentic, flexible and capability-oriented.” Marketing professionals now assist with leveraging efforts to recruit through peer relationships, and the Bundeswehr is exploring offerings for young applicants to experience a military career though internship-like experiences.
Recruiting is particularly difficult for Japan’s Self-Defense Force. Colonel Yahata pointed to the impact of Japan’s constitutional bar on a standing military and lingering post-WWII public perceptions as barriers. The post-COVID job market and economy in Japan also strains recruiting efforts. Eliciting a chuckle, Yahata described the current Japanese sentiment that “young people are horrible,” but also assured this is a notional pattern every aging generation believes.
Japanese military recruiters are now focusing on flexibility and understanding the characteristics of Generation Z. To connect to the young demographic, Yahata noted Japanese recruiting efforts use anime and comedians as tools. Recruiters are improving their digital approach, focusing on diversity, and promoting the career stability of military service.
French recruiting operations follow a waterfall approach to meet the nearly 9 million 17- to 30- year-olds of the target audience filtering down through each stage to reach a goal of 1,600 yearly contracts. Recruiting is conducted through a network of 105 local centers (48 joint and seven overseas) to reach the broadest range of people.
The French face the same problems as the other included countries but believe their recruiting mission is well-crafted: generate interest, motivate, support.
The recruiting challenges faced by these featured countries are universal. No country is immune to global and local economic conditions or the need to connect to the next generation and convince them of the personal and national benefits of military service. Of course, this includes the U.S. armed forces.
Dialogue about the U.S. recruiting dilemma and how to solve it has reached a fever pitch in national security circles over the past several years. All U.S. service branches, in recent years, have struggled to meet annual goals. This week, the Air Force announced it will miss its 2023 enlisted recruiting mark for the first time in over two decades. While political in-fighting dominates American cause and effect discussions, common threads are revealing themselves among international partners. Commonality, in challenges may help direct commonality in ideas to drive novel answers to problems.