Attrition: An Attractive Alternative To Unemployment

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November 2,2008: Department of Defense recruiters, especially the army ones, are benefitting from the current recession. While the military has met its recruiting goals since September 11, 2001, and have even been able to expand a bit, they had to lower standards a bit. The biggest problem recruiters have is not with anti-war activists (who get the most attention) but a booming economy. Since most (over 80 percent) of the jobs in the army have nothing to do with combat, recruiters are basically competing with the civilian job market. For the educated, energetic young people the army is seeking, there are often lots good jobs out there that don't require extended visits to places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Recruiters have a much easier time with recent high school grads looking for some adventure, or feeling patriotic. These two factors bring in most of the recruits for combat units. Actually, it's been easier getting recruits for combat jobs, than for some technical ones.

The word is now out that joining the army is becoming very competitive, and the signing bonuses will probably go away sometime next year because of the large number of quality recruits trying to get in. Now there's an opportunity for the army to snag young men and women with job experience and some technical skills, without paying big signing bonuses.

The reserves are also seeing more applicants. If you have the right skills, you can get signing bonuses as high as $20,000 for joining the reserves, Take those skills and join the active army, and you get twice as much. Jobs in the reserves are seen as something to fall back on, a second job, so to speak. But it's also widely known that a reservist can transfer to active service, if you want, or need, a full time gig.

To keep the ranks filled, the army had to take more recruits that had not graduated from high school (currently 17 percent, versus only 8 percent non-grads for all the services). Improved selection and training methods kept army performance up, but it made initial training more expensive. Higher quality recruits are cheaper to train, and fewer of them get "fired" ("dismissed from the service.")

The army needs nearly 200,000 recruits in the next twelve months, for its active and reserve forces. So far this year, the U.S. economy has lost 760,000 jobs. Since military recruits have to be above average, physically and mentally, to get in, perhaps only a third of those jobs were held by men and women who could make the initial cut for joining the army. But another million jobs may be lost before the recession is over, with the unemployment rate going to 7-8 percent. The military provides four year contracts, and much less risk of getting hurt in combat. It's always been an attractive alternative to unemployment.

 

 


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