What I have learned is reinforced by some sad facts. In a time of historic low unemployment, in which business leaders are crying out for quality workers, the Department of Labor reports that former men and women of our armed forces experience unemployment rates almost twice that of people who haven't served. And it gets worse. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment survey data also show that male veterans aged 2024 and 35-39 (the ages at which veterans are most likely to separate or retire) have higher (almost double) unemployment rates than non-veteran males in the same age group.
The effect on recruiting is devastating. We all know that a youth's propensity to enlist is greatly affected by conversations with veterans. DoD Youth Attitude Tracking Surveys traditionally indicate that conversations with military members and veterans were more frequently mentioned by youth as more of an influence on joining the armed forces than recruiter contact and recruiting advertising combined. In 1998, the surveys indicate that contacts with military members and veterans are having an adverse effect. Ten percent of both men and women whose interest had decreased cited conversations with military members or veterans as a reason for decreased interest. Put another way: Among the Navy's most influential recruiters, the satisfied former members, are no longer assisting recruiting at a time when—in the words of Admiral McGann—"[Recruiters] are innovative, motivated, and resourceful but they can't do the job alone. They need help of every man and woman wearing the Navy uniform—and all other Navy boosters...."
This unhealthy environment is not going away, and future trends indicate that it will probably get worse. From my perspective, the way the Navy can help is by going back to the fundamentals. A band-aid approach won't work and there is no outside agency that can substitute for Navy recruiting. It should reject outright such notions as civilian recruiters, lowering standards, and other such nonsense. Concentrate instead on ways to reinforce its strength. In terms of management, training, and process, Navy recruiting is in a league by itself compared to every company I have observed closely. I have never come across any civilian company that recruits as effectively as the armed forces. The fact that the recruiters do as well as they do in today's environment in attracting those who do serve is ample testimony to their effectiveness.
Helping the recruiter has to be viewed within a process that includes recruiting, career counseling, and transition. All three are required to produce a recruit. The transition process has to be viewed as an integral element and recognized for its enormous potential. The greatest potential lies in ensuring that the former member becomes the Navy's best booster. The misguided view that America is waiting for former Navy men and women with open arms and that civilian firms are raiding the Navy for talent is shortsighted and lies at the root of the problem. Such might be true for pilots and some technical positions, but it is not true for the vast majority of personnel departing the Navy. A longer-term view is to treat every member upon departure the way he or she was treated on arrival and throughout active service. That requires recognition that everyone leaves the Navy and all first termers cannot be retained, even if the Navy wanted to retain everyone. The system requires attrition, particularly on the part of first-termers. Every former Navy man and women who successfully transitions becomes a referral source for recruits and could be called upon to directly assist the recruiter (and, incidentally, support the Navy in other areas as well).
As for those the Navy wants to retain and for all new recruits, the Navy has distinct advantages over the civilian sector. It offers, as Admiral McGann wrote, ". . . incredible Navy experiences worldwide: more challenges, more job satisfaction and more responsibility quicker—than most civilian occupations could dream of offering." Proceed with the confidence that Navy leadership continues to imbue youth with the greatest of all incentives—the consciousness of duty well performed.
Recognize that transition is very difficult for everyone, admiral to seaman. It is especially difficult for married first-termers. It is at that time that assistance is most appreciated—and will be rewarded again and again if the servicemember leaves with a favorable impression. The Navy needs to reprioritize its support for those who decide to depart active service. There are a number of ways.
The military leadership's routine contacts with civilian executives should stress the importance of hiring former servicemembers and demand that the Department of Labor enforce, and federal contractors abide by, federal guidelines regarding military service.
Another way is to support pending legislation, which will provide civilian certifications for military training and experience and help servicemembers obtain certifications. It is a great national waste that little military training is certifiable in the civilian community. Certifications run the entire gamut from commercial driving licenses to Federal Aviation Administration certifications. Many certifications call for taking the same courses in a civilian institution that were already successfully completed in the Navy. It just doesn't matter that the training in the Navy often is superior to anything offered in the civilian sector. The person without the certification doesn't even get the job interview. As a junior college president once described former Navy medical technicians, ". . . they come here like homeless people . . . all of the military support is terminated. . . usually married with children . . . and it is so heartbreaking to tell them that they have to spend 18 months getting a certification for which their Navy training was superior . . . all just go off and try to find a job . . . any job . as long as it has health benefits. And to eat, many just take the first job offered . . . or go on unemployment."
Another way is to get serious about transition assistance. If anyone doubts that the transition assistance in the military is flawed, a reading of the recent Report of the Congressional Commission on Servicemembers and Veterans Transition Assistance should put those doubts to rest. For a model of the way it should be, compare Navy transition with vastly superior outsourcing programs run by any of our 50 states to assist "downsized" workers.
Another way is to remove the transition program organizationally, or at least "virtually" from Family Services and connect it to recruiting. It doesn't belong in Family Services, where it is about as far away from recruiting and the focus of Navy leadership as it can get. The transition program is not exactly on the top of a list of what Navy leaders think about (or what Family Services think about), and Navy recruiters pay every day for that oversight. Recruiting would then be responsible for and influence the entire process, recruiting, career counseling and transition
Establish a way for recruiters to tap into the transitioning population. Provide a simple network with transitioning personnel by tracking and assisting them, particularly during the first six months of separation. That is a critical period to influence others in joining the Navy. Networking and tracking with today's technology is easy and relatively inexpensive. Successful transition experiences could be communicated immediately to the individual recruiter for use as a sales tool. In addition to referrals and a real-life experience of the value of the Navy service, the transitioning service member could help the recruiter in a variety of other ways. Most good recruiters have established these kinds of networks on a personal basis, but they are limited in scope and not fungible. What is needed is a Navy-wide network that includes all transitioning personnel and a durable, real-time connection between the recruiter and the transitioning population. This network should remain in place over a lifetime.
Navy leaders don't need another diversion from their primary focus, which is to accomplish its mission and bring its men and women home safely. What I propose is relatively modest in terms of investment, but has an enormous return—not the least of which is assurance the Navy can perform its mission in the future. I know the environment in which the recruiters operate. I know what is happening to transitioning servicemembers in the workplace. I know they are turned off and are turning off recruits. And I know the Navy can turn them back on. Admiral McGann is right: to recruit effectively in today's environment and into the foreseeable future Navy recruiters need help. In her words, "Our sailors deserve the very best from Navy leaders during active-duty service." The Navy needs to recognize that former Navy men and women also deserve the very best during the difficult transitioning period. It is the right thing to do, and the most cost-effective action the Navy can take to help recruiters.
Major General Caulfield, U.S. Marine Corps (Retired) , is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Hire Quality, Oceanside, California.