The Army Should Focus on Incentives to Increase Recruitment

As the priorities of younger generations have begun to change regarding work and education, it probably doesn’t come as a shock that Army recruitment has gone down in recent years and the U.S. government is extremely concerned about it. More young people are choosing to become self-employed or go to college, which has been reflected in the Army missing its projected recruitment numbers by 6,500 last fiscal year, according to NPR. To combat this problem, Army recruitment officers have explained their plan to target social media, e-sports and more left-leaning cities to increase lackluster numbers. More targeted ad campaigns certainly will gain exposure for the Army and potentially lead to an increase in recruits, but that only goes so far. If the government wants to be successful in recruiting Generation Z into its ranks, they should focus their attention on the issues that matter most to this age group, like education and career opportunities, in order to entice this generation to sign up and serve.

Pushing incentives via internet marketing should be the primary focus for new Army recruitment because it is already blatantly obvious that the internet is the best place to recruit Gen-Z since they spend a significant amount of time using it. According to research from Generation Z marketing strategist Deep Patel, people within this generation spend a little over 10 hours a day using tech per day. Gen-Z is responsible for 5.1 billion Google searches, 4 billion YouTube views and 500 million tweets per day. The issue is not where to find recruits, but rather what the Army could offer to Generation Z to motivate them to sign up. To do this, though, the Army needs to understand what makes Gen-Z different from previous generations.

The main difference between Gen-Z and previous generations is the distinct economic ambitions of young adults and teens; Gen-Z is much more money driven and entrepreneurial compared to previous generations. Therefore, the key focus for Army recruiters should be on how it specifically markets itself to the younger generation and what economic incentives the Army can provide. While it’s true these individuals are presenting themselves as being more politically active and socially liberal, according to Forbes and Business Insider Gen-Z is shaping up to be far more fiscally conservative than previous generations. This means that if the Army wants to recruit these individuals, they need to focus on the economic incentives the Army could provide to young people.

The biggest focus should hammer in the benefits the Army has to offer Gen-Z, like debt-free education and career opportunities. Programs within the Army provide debt-free educations to individuals who serve for several years, and Gen-Z would likely be enticed by G.I. Bill benefits. Furthermore, there is also an Army signing bonus, which can be up to $40,000. These kinds of fiscal benefits should be the focal point of the Army recruitment tactics for Gen-Z, as they are the most likely to hold the attention of the younger generation and incentivize them to sign up.

While social media can be used to the Army’s advantage in getting their message across—nearly 92% of 18 to 21 year-olds have a digital footprint—the challenge will be in enticing the young generation that is predominantly concerned with making money and owning their own businesses in the future. According to a Harvard Business Review article, nearly 70% of Gen-Z teens are “self-employed,” i.e. teaching piano lessons and selling items online, whereas only 12% of teens held a “traditional” teen job such as waiting tables. The lack in Army recruitment could be less about ineffective ad campaigns but more of a general shift in future job prospects, as many individuals in Gen-Z who were polled expressed interest in being self-employed when they get older as well. Furthermore, the Army will have the additional challenge of recruiting during a period with a growing economy, making the importance of pushing their own economic incentives and opportunities even more necessary.

Low recruitment numbers for the Army are extremely concerning, as maintaining an Army as well as a broader military is important for the nation’s well-being and protection. While serving in the Army comes with inherent risks, this doesn’t seem to be the main cause for falling rates in recruiting younger generations, specifically with Generation Z, and neither does the amount of social media presence. Younger individuals may know about the prospects of joining the military and specifically the Army, but they may not know about the economic benefits to joining, which could be the missing link for Army recruiters.

Rebecca Rinaldi is a fourth year Criminology, Law and Society major. She can be reached at rinaldir@uci.edu.