“Diversity is included in everything we do – it’s a critical part of our mission. It’s so ingrained in what we do that we don’t even really see it.”
These were some of the words spoken by Cmdr. Brent Phillips, Director of Marketing and Advertising for the Navy Recruiting Command, on day two of the recent ERE Expo in Hollywood, FL. During his “The Navy’s Record Year” keynote, Cmdr. Phillips discussed many facets of the Navy’s recruitment successes and challenges — many of which translate not only to the entire military, but to employers in general. Below are some highlights about the Navy’s specific recruiting challenges, growth/success metrics, and tips that may inspire other employers or recruiters:
What’s it like to work for the Navy? A workplace snapshot
- 284 ships in commission
- 3700+ operational aircraft
- Personnel deployed: 52, 585
- Then (1992): 550,000 active duty; 406 ships
- Now (2011): 328,266 active duty, 203,796 Navy civilians, 102,080 reserves
- Navy recruiting command: Hiring 45,000 people a year, consisting of 42,079 enlisted, 3,989 officers, and 4,220 NROTC applications
- Hiring 45,000 people/year
Should be easy to reach their goals with such a great brand, right? Not so fast. “Lots of people have reservations about recruiting for the Navy,” said Phillips. The reasons are widespread, but many stem from either physical concerns, fear (war and high-risk situations often pop into people’s minds) and cultural elements. Some of the most common concerns include those offered from the audience: “I hate push-ups; “I can’t swim” (the point, as Phillips jokes, is to stay on the ship, not to fall off of it); “I’m going to have to cut my hair”; and “Where will I work, geographically? I have to leave home.”
Some of these are real concerns, and Phillips acknowledges that they are a barrier the Navy deals with all the time. He went on to address other challenges the Navy faces both internally and externally.
Some of the Navy’s current recruitment challenges:
- Complex Mission: The Navy has what they call a “FIT” standard for talent — they need the right person, doing the right job, at the right time. In the old days, Phillips said, you took a test to determine that you were morally and physically qualified, and then you were “in,” your job was chosen, and you were sent to it.Now, they have “gotten away from sending a general product downrange,” as he calls it, and it’s top-notch quality being sent off to boot camp. When you go to boot camp, you know what you will be doing after, and you’ve had all the security, financial, and background checks already done and the physical screenings taken care of. But this FIT element, Phillips added, is like finding a blade of grass in a haystack, it results in frustration on part of applicants and recruiters, and it can be a strain on the most valuable resource — time.
- A shrinking population of qualified and interested youth: Phillips asked audience members for a show of hands as to how many of their family members were in the military. Overall, he got about 50 percent raised hands; fewer, he said, than he would have gotten years ago. It used to be that entire families would consider the military as line of work — that 70 percent in that same audience would have raised their hands. Interest and military participation as a family tradition has dwindled, and with it a portion of the Navy’s target market.In addition, the skill sets for which the Navy is recruiting are intense; 98 percent of nuclear power plants, for instance, are run by Navy-trained officers — and this requires finding a very technically astute individual. Not easy to find, especially when two-thirds of the market (17- to 24-year-old males) isn’t even qualified to join the Navy.
- Navy Awareness lags all other services: In many ways, Phillips said, the Navy is invisible to America. You can’t get on naval bases without an escort in most cases, if there’s even one near you — which makes it difficult for people to penetrate the barriers and get to know what the organization is really like. In addition, they have their own language of sorts — they use particular words for things that the general public isn’t necessarily familiar with, and they’re an insular, close-knit community. Kind of like an exclusive club, really — but this rep doesn’t do much for raising awareness.
- Resource reductions and the changing economy pose a moderate risk in the near term: Marketing for complex jobs is difficult, Phillips pointed out. The Department of Defense has taken a $26 billion reduction, so trying to make decisions on whether to spend money on recruiting or equipment needs can prove to be quite challenging.
- There’s a high demand for professional skill sets in the private sector: The Navy also struggles with people relatively immune to unemployment — people with very specific skill sets and an advanced level of education, like doctors, chaplains, and dentists. With a shortage of Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. and many parishes in need of them, for example, it’s hard for the Navy to justify taking them away — and it can cause quite a dilemma.
- A sense of identity and awareness among the public: The Navy has suffered from the lack of a clear identity and awareness among the broader American public. News reporters and the public at large believe the Navy is manned by generals and soldiers, and they don’t know what service actually entails or what kind of impact the Navy has on their daily lives. Without this foundation, it’s difficult for the general public to support Naval efforts. This hurts when it comes to getting the right people in the door. There is currently a 7 percent female interest in the Navy, compared to an 18 percent male interest in the Navy. There’s a steady decline for female interest, though the Navy has more and more jobs opening for females — it’s a problem of perception versus reality. Not only does the Navy want more female recruits — it needs them. They’re about to onboard their first female submariners, which is huge.
How the Navy has overcome some of its biggest challenges: