Military looks to tech to draw 21st-century recruits
Over the last two decades, as technology has become a bigger part of our lives, many companies and organizations have had to adapt in order to share their message. Possibly the biggest of these organizations in the U.S. to adapt to the new digital reality is the U.S military. Specifically when it comes to recruitment, the military is embracing digital media. Many of us have seen the military’s digital efforts but what isn’t readily visible is the process for getting it in the eyes of the public. Using technology as a tool for recruiting has many benefits in the military’s view.
According to U.S. Army Col. Peter Dargle, “The technology that’s available now certainly provides a span of capability that was not resident even five years ago.”
With Gen Z being more tech savvy than any prior generation, there are challenges that come with that. On that subject COL. Dargle says, “In many aspects, we recognize that traditional means of face to face conversations or waiting for somebody to come into a recruiting office to say, “hey, I’m here to sign up for the army, and what do you have on me”, we recognize that we need to approach it in different ways… so the military has adapted over many years”
Today we see the military’s digital push on social media platforms and in website tools but over the years it has taken many forms. Since the army started going more online in the late 90s, there has been everything from video games, like the America’s Army franchise, to more recently, an official Esports team. The idea behind many of these programs is to go where your potential audience is. Using the America’s Army video game as an example, it was born from the army seeing the growing number of young male teenagers playing computer games. At the time in the late 1990s, some of the most popular games for this age demographic were first person shooters like Doom and Quake.
The army recognized this and thought that making a first person shooter of their own with a military theme could be a good way to get people interested in recruitment. The Army started game development and the first America’s Army game came out in 2002. By 2005 it had more than six million users playing and 29 percent of young adults cited the game as the number one source of their awareness of the U.S. Army (Harvard Kennedy school). It’s clear to say that the game achieved its goal. This desire by the Army to be where there is a potential audience, is why it shouldn’t be a surprise that an official Army Twitch channel and Esports team have popped up in the past few years as well.
This push to be online for recruitment does have its limitations where traditional methods are still relevant. That being said, even these traditional methods of being face to face with a recruiter are changing with technology.
“The Army recognized that there’s probably an opportunity to get away from the office kind of studying, for the recruiters that would normally just sit there and wait or kind of go out to the high schools and give presentations and do those kind of efforts, where they’re trying to do it a bit more autonomously… so that they’re not fixed to a particular office, or recruiting center” says Col. Dargle, “The technology and the speed of technology and how things are going, absolutely allows the Army’s and the Military’s recruiting… efforts, much more broadly than they ever have been.”
The military has also changed protocols to make it easier for recruiters to use online tools that are considered “non tactical” or not at a military level of security. This includes using programs like Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Being able to use them is especially important now with the threat of COVID-19.
But with how fast the landscape of social media and the internet in general changes, the challenge of keeping up can be very hard especially when you are a part of a large organization.
“Because of the protocols and requirements that go into the approval process for federal agencies… there’s just so many steps of, how you get this program funded and approved… the ability to do it is there, it may not happen as fast as we would like” says Col. Dargle.
In many ways, the people who work on online recruiting are trying to predict the future for what will be popular. On this subject Col. Dargle says “The ability to do that is, is hard and significant… so we lag behind in some cases. But there’s probably all good reasons that because the American taxpayer is who’s footing the bill for the things that we do. And so we want to make sure that we are applying those funds properly and responsibly”
It is impossible to tell the future but in this case, it can be said that technology will continue to get better and make the ways we use it, continue to change.