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Meeting the Goal: Three Recommendations for Air Force Recruiting

Every yr most U.S. navy companies wrestle to achieve their annual recruitment targets, however 2022 is shaping as much as be one in all the most difficult since the institution of the all-volunteer pressure in 1973. The United States Air Force Recruiting Service faces falling in need of its enlisted accessions recruiting purpose for its active-duty pressure for the first time since 1999. There have been years since 1999 the place it has been near lacking its purpose, however Air Force recruiting has been proactive in figuring out this yr’s challenges to onboarding 26,151 new airmen. Military recruiting routinely faces challenges, however that the Air Force is struggling to satisfy its recruiting purpose highlights the grim actuality of a aggressive labor market the place 71 % of Americans aged 17–24 years previous are ineligible for navy service. As of May 24, the Air Force had shipped 16,735 recruits off to primary navy coaching, leaving simply 4 months to achieve its purpose by Sept. 30, when the fiscal yr ends. The service stays cautiously optimistic on progress towards its purpose, however has indicated that it might fall 1–2 % quick. If the service does handle to achieve its purpose, it’ll doubtless have to exhaust its pool of certified and ready members of the delayed enlistment program to take action, very like the different companies are indicating. This implies that when the 2023 recruiting marketing campaign begins, the concern over not assembly subsequent yr’s purpose will start even sooner than it did this yr. One yr of lacking the purpose could be manageable for the Air Force, however with out extra measures it might be a extra extended and problematic difficulty. Considering the ongoing problem dealing with Air Force enlisted accessions, there are three areas to contemplate to mitigate threat: new monetary incentives, an expanded recruiting workplace footprint, and extra and higher “lead sharing” with different enlisted accession recruiters.



Financial Incentives for Enlisted Accessions

The Air Force has used a wide range of monetary incentives to entice individuals into navy service, however underneath the present circumstances it is probably not sufficient. One standard concept is to revisit funding the Enlisted College Loan Repayment Program. Total scholar debt in the United States has reached $1.75 trillion, whereas the common quantity of debt for faculty graduates in 2020 rose to just about $29,000 per borrower and is anticipated to proceed rising. There are practically 94 million adults in the United States with a school diploma, and individuals who began however didn’t full a level program might have additionally accrued some type of scholar debt. The Air Force discontinued the use of the Enlisted College Loan Repayment Program in 2014, primarily on account of an absence of participation. Despite a reputation that seems to handle a severe scholar debt drawback, the program had a number of constraints that made it a much less fascinating instrument compared to different incentives. The program was fairly flawed, as written: It required individuals to be in good standing on their mortgage, it might solely be used for particular federal scholar loans, it couldn’t be used together with one other bonus, and enlistees utilizing the program couldn’t qualify for the GI Bill till after finishing that program and finishing an extra three years of service. Since the GI Bill offers extra when it comes to total advantages — doubtlessly as much as $80,000 between tuition and a stipend for 36 months of college — most enlistees opted to take an preliminary enlistment bonus and earn their GI Bill as an alternative of enrolling in the faculty mortgage reimbursement program, which has a cap of $10,000 in advantages payable over three years, following their first yr of service. Unless there’s a drastic change in the constraints of the program as outlined in regulation, renewing its funding wouldn’t be use of assets.

The Air Force makes use of bonuses as an incentive for each preliminary enlistment and retention centered on low manning, poor retention charges, and excessive substitute coaching prices. Typically, the extra critically manned specialties have increased bonuses and volunteers for longer contracts get a bigger bonus, which ensures continuity and prolongs the period of time earlier than a substitute have to be skilled. As just lately as April 2022, the Air Force elevated the variety of profession fields through which new recruits are eligible for preliminary entry bonuses to over a dozen. Bonuses for finishing the specified coaching are typically $3,000 for a 4-year contract and $6,000 for a 6-year contract, however extraordinarily hard-to-fill specialties can earn a $50,000 bonus for a 6-year contract. The Air Force has additionally focused bonuses for luring new recruits with established {qualifications} in the cyber discipline, providing $12,000–$20,000 for a 6-year contract with the acceptable credentials. A brand new, short-term motion applied by Air Force recruiting is an $8,000 bonus for “quick-ship” recruits in instances the place there’s a short-notice opening for primary navy coaching. This incentivizes an already certified applicant and averts the lack of a coaching slot. The quick-ship bonuses have already been used 80 occasions to avert the lack of a primary navy class seat valued at roughly $24,000. Though it has till now been seen as a short-term initiative, the Air Force might have to contemplate the quick-ship incentive for subsequent years if accessions stay beneath the annual purpose.

Air Force Recruiting Service enlisted accessions by zip code for fiscal years 2017–2021. (Graphic courtesy of Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs)

Another potential monetary incentive is awarding service credit score for certified candidates with superior expertise, primarily permitting these candidates to earn a better rank primarily based on particular standards. There are a couple of examples of this already in follow, however extra motion on this space could also be extra compelling for recruitment. Already the Air Force permits enlistees (grade of E-1) with a major quantity of faculty credit score to advertise to E-2 (if they’ve 20 faculty credit) or E-3 (45 faculty credit) after finishing primary navy coaching. Other examples of this are enlistees with particular {qualifications} for the Air Force Band: They are eligible for increased rank at E-4. Medical officers might are available with increased rank primarily based on their years of education and residency packages. The advantage of elevated rank — and the elevated pay that comes with it — early in a profession for expertise or superior certification might enhance the Air Force’s prospects for accessing the expertise it wants. Specialties that may profit from increasing this method could be cyber profession fields which have direct civilian counterparts and established certifications that the Air Force makes use of to develop its cyber workforce. Other attainable profession fields for consideration may embrace heating, air flow, air con and refrigeration, electricians, and even dental technicians. This method fixes a long-standing drawback of filling manning shortfalls in particular yr teams. While the present method hinges on constructing a substitute airman from scratch after which ready years for them to develop, this method permits the accession of an skilled enlistee to achieve a noncommissioned officer rank in a lot much less time. In a specialised and technical surroundings, particular person functionality can typically be extra necessary than rank, however awarding service credit score could also be the good enticement for established technicians with a want to serve in the navy with out taking a drastic pay reduce.

Reestablishing a Recruiting Presence

The Air Force Recruiting Service is sort of conscious of the impression that the pandemic has had on operations. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Edward Thomas, has harassed the want for the recruiting pressure to deal with a vital element of recruiting success: group engagement. During the preliminary onset of COVID-19, many excessive colleges have been both closed or transitioned to a digital surroundings, which eradicated many conventional alternatives for recruiters to determine contact with new leads and potential candidates. After two years of pandemic operations, a large portion of recruiters have by no means performed an in-person go to to a highschool. This poses an unprecedented disruption in recruiting as recruiting assignments sometimes final 4 years. While excessive colleges have since returned to regular operations, they could be much less accommodating of campus visits on account of COVID-19 considerations. The lack of contact and the common turnover of academics and counselors, who’ve appreciable affect on college students’ profession and schooling plans, is forcing recruiters to allocate appreciable time to rebuilding relationships with all of the colleges of their space.

To higher execute group engagement and empower recruiters to type robust relationships with colleges, Air Force recruiting wants to guage its recruiting footprint. After a number of years of consolidating workplaces into hubs in some areas and lowering the variety of single recruiter workplaces, the service ought to establish methods to reverse that pattern and open extra recruiting areas. The shift to centralized recruiting workplaces cuts workplace hire and logistics, but it surely does this at the price of shifting recruiters from the space that they service. A recruiter can’t construct the identical relationship with a group after they stay an hour or extra away. Even unofficial interactions, similar to the sort that occur when a recruiter drops their child off in school or picks up their child from sports activities, is a chance to have interaction the group. The distance and time prices attributable to over-centralization impression greater than the recruiter: Applicants with out their very own transportation, or who stay in a rural group with no public transport, might face vital limitations to assembly with a recruiter. Recruiters are supposed to be low-density, high-demand operators. If they’re too centralized, they can’t develop the group relationship successfully. Gen. Thomas has remarked on the problem to recruiting attributable to navy members being disconnected from civil society. Dispersing the footprint addresses that difficulty.

Planning and executing a rise in the variety of recruitment workplaces is overdue. The recruiting service was convincing in its advocacy for rising the measurement of the recruiting pressure a couple of years in the past and obtained funding and manpower to extend the variety of recruiters in the discipline, however sadly it was not capable of garner a commensurate enhance in extra workplace house. They have been capable of “find” house in present workplace areas to accommodate new recruiters, however lots of these workplace options are suboptimal. There is an expense related to extra workplaces and sometimes workplace areas are leased for lengthy durations to lock in rents and mitigate annual price will increase. Procuring funding and coordinating house by the Army Corps of Engineers can take time, however doubtlessly lacking recruiting targets this yr might present impetus for rising the workplace footprint. Additional workplaces might be co-located with the National Guard and reserve in alignment with route from Air Force higher-ups to combine their recruiting operations. At the very least, the Air Force Recruiting Service ought to examine if any potential house could be discovered with the different companies in an present recruiting middle. Even areas the Air Force recruiters vacated beforehand which might be nonetheless underneath contract could also be worthy of one other look.

Non-Selected Commissioning Applicants as New Leads

The Air Force Recruiting Service has recognized lead sharing — sharing contact info throughout all its recruiting parts (energetic responsibility, reserve, National Guard, Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, and the United States Air Force Academy) — as an necessary course of, however as a result of completely different recruiting techniques have completely different info know-how techniques, they haven’t but managed to refine the course of. It has made strides by increasing the capabilities of its major info system, however that system shouldn’t be utilized by both the United States Air Force Academy or the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. Lead sharing at its core is useful when one recruiting pressure finds a possible applicant that has an curiosity in the Air Force, however not the particular model of service the recruiter works for. In an ideal knowledge system, the recruiter gathers info on the applicant and sends it to a extra acceptable recruiter. For instance, if somebody could also be seeking to work part-time or keep near dwelling throughout their Air Force profession, the lead goes to the National Guard or reserve. On the different hand, if somebody is seeking to go to varsity, that lead might get despatched to the United States Air Force Academy or the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps for motion.

The facet of lead sharing that has the most potential however has seen the least success is the handoff of contacts from commissioning packages to enlisted accessions. Every yr the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and the United States Air Force Academy have many candidates for their aggressive commissioning packages that aren’t accepted or go away the program for causes that will not disqualify them for enlisted accessions. These candidates are helpful as leads particularly as a result of they reveal consciousness of the navy, which will increase recruiting success.

Per Air Force officer commissioning sources, annually there are roughly 10,000 those that apply to the United States Air Force Academy that aren’t chosen. Traditionally, passing these contacts on to enlisted accessions has not been successfully executed. While a few of these candidates is probably not certified or aggressive sufficient for the commissioning packages, they could be certified for enlisted accessions, and, equally necessary, they’ve already indicated an curiosity in an Air Force profession. The capability to move these results in the acceptable recruiters have to be improved. Civilian firms typically pay recruiting businesses charges of round 20 % of a brand new rent’s wage to accumulate expertise for their enterprise, however with the proper effort the Air Force ought to get these leads on candidates at no vital extra price. Even if present techniques are usually not optimized to move particular knowledge, the knowledge managers for each techniques can collect and move on applicant contact info in a manner that might be transferred to enlisted accessions recruiters. For the Air Force’s Officer Training School, all lead details about candidates with out prior service is already contained in the recruiting service’s system of document, and it ought to be seamlessly shared. But there’s not a formalized course of by which these candidates are notified of non-selection after which adopted up with by a dialog on the advantages of an enlisted profession. If wanted, the Air Force Recruiting Service might devise specialised coaching to handle lots of the perceptions that candidates looking for a fee might have of an enlisted profession. These candidates may benefit from a follow-up dialog if, for instance, there have been already working in non permanent or short-term jobs as they completed their levels and waited for the outcomes of the board. Since these candidates have been trying for an Air Force profession anyway, this is a chance for an enlisted accessions recruiter to remind the applicant that an enlisted profession has nearly all the advantages (well being care, housing, schooling, insurance coverage, paid strikes, and so forth) {that a} fee would have supplied.


The Air Force is working in a decent labor market, similar to each enterprise presently trying for expertise in the United States, and it stays profitable regardless of these circumstances. It ought to proceed to guage the effectiveness of present packages and try to develop extra ones when circumstances require. The advised options above are usually not essentially new and will embrace a price that the Air Force has to fund in relation to its precedence, however from a macro degree they’re comparatively modest. The proposed steps are viable as a result of they’ve both already been used or they’re constructed on present packages that may be tailor-made for completely different necessities. If the Air Force Recruiting Service acts on implementing these suggestions now, it may possibly improve the success of its recruiting efforts for years to return.



Kelly McElveny is an Air Force officer with 22 years of expertise in areas together with intelligence, recruiting, technical coaching, and personnel. He has supported operations in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia. The views expressed on this article don’t replicate these of the Department of Defense, nor do hyperlinks represent endorsement by the division.

Image: U.S. Air Force picture by Tech Sgt. Ryan Conroy