US Air Force sees slump in recruits in wake of COVID-19 pandemic
Just as the private sector is facing an employee shortage, so is the United States military.
This year’s recruiting goals for the United States Air Force are somewhere between 23,000-27,000. But recruiters say that they are having a hard time hitting those targets. They say that they hope incentives and looser restrictions will help.
“I’ve always been part of the ROTC program at my high school,” says Jackson Memorial High School senior Manolis Mathioudakis.
Mathioudakis says he has decided to enlist in the Armed Forces and was encouraged by the ROTC program. He says that college is not for him and that he wanted to go a different route.
“I’ve always wanted to join. I’ve always wanted to do the military. It’s always been something in the back of my head,” Mathioudakis says.
Though the 18-year-old is now preparing for a career in the Air Force, the military as a whole is seeing some of the same employee shortages as the private sector. Recruiters for the Air Force say there are over 100 diverse careers to offer job seekers. However, the number of recruits continues to drop. Officials say there are several factors at play.
“A lot of people from the ages of 16-24 have no idea that the military is an option for them,” says Air Force Technical Sgt. Noah Dankocsik. “A lot of people don’t even know where to find us… A lot of people don’t see the military or don’t see their family member in the military.”
Recruiting efforts dropped sharply since the COVID-19 pandemic, largely due to the cancellation of in-person recruiting events.
“A lot of virtual things had to happen in that stead and that doesn’t have the same impact,” says Dankocsik.
Marcelis Baxter, director of professional services for Locus Recruiting, says job seekers have more options than ever when it comes to employment like starting a small business or working remotely. He also says some employers are changing the requirements of work roles to get folks in the door.
“It’s more training, it’s more L&D – learning and development – so you can hire someone with less skills and then train them up, as opposed to looking for someone who has five to 10 years of senior experience,” Baxter says.
The Air Force is hoping to bolster recruitment numbers by ramping up outreach programs through community events and going back inside schools. The Air Force is also offering monetary incentives and even easing some of its requirements like the no tattoo rule.
Other branches of the military are also suffering recruitment shortages.