AFRS Transformation underway: Innovation in recruiting essential to Air Force future|
Posted 8/19/2011 Updated 8/19/2011
Air Force Recruiting Service
8/19/2011 - RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- The newest market data is revealing, by the time a young man or woman turns 16, they've made their decision about the military -- and for a surprising number, that answer is "no." And, the trend is growing.
According to the Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies June 2011 "State of Recruiting Market" report, an increasing number of young men and women are ruling out military service at an earlier age than previous years; 46 percent (ages 18-21) have never considered service in the Armed Forces.
This growing trend is yet another challenge recruiters must face when trying to inspire an already shrinking pool of eligible youth.
Today, nearly 73 percent of American youth (ages 17-24) are not qualified for military service. Disqualification reasons range from poor aptitude test scores to insufficient education, and legal and medical issues.
But despite the small pool of high-performing individuals, the weak economy has contributed to a thriving recruiting environment -- one that has masked what will be a tough recruiting environment ahead as the economy strengthens, according to Air Force Recruiting Service officials.
Recruiting's best year ever
"Fiscal Year 2011 will be a banner year for the Air Force Recruiting Service," said Brig. Gen. Balan Ayyar, AFRS commander. "This year the Air Force will meet its Air Force accession requirements at an unprecedented level of excellence."
Currently, nearly 98 percent of recruits in the Delayed Entry Program score at or above the 50th percentile on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, or ASVAB -- historically that number hovered around 77 percent.
"You can imagine how tough it is to convince a winning team [recruiters] about the importance of transformation when we're exceeding everyone's expectations," Ayyar said. "But much of this success is related to the uncertainty in the economy."
The general added that while "we have the best recruiting force in the business; however, our recruiting business practices have largely remained the same, even while our environment is changing right around us."
The general stated that many young men and women would prefer to text rather than talk, and prefer to communicate via their Facebook network, vice email.
"Until this year, because we thought of the web as a public information board, we weren't doing any of the things you need to do when you view the web as a recruiting space," he said. "It can be both of course, but you need to have a marketing strategy that creates the kind of content that young men and women find authentic, inspiring and engaging. Creating a rich experience that lets them know who we are and what we believe.
"Recruiting is very competitive, and the environment we're competing in is changing," Ayyar said. "As the job market improves over the next two to three years, competition for the best and brightest will be tremendous. Our ability to keep them choosing the United States Air Force will hinge on our ability to transform our recruiting efforts to adapt to the environment their [potential applicants] making their decisions in."
"That means more content, inspiration and engagement via the web," he added.
Recruiting: A Human Endeavor
Since 2008, AFRS has "leaned out" the organization by more than 30 percent -- losing more than 1,200 positions and closing one group, four squadrons and 138 recruiting offices -- all during a time of relatively strong recruiting.
With fewer influencers recommending military service and the propensity to serve relatively low, AFRS will have its work cut out for them in the future, according to Ayyar.
The business of recruiting rests on three pillars: An effective and capable recruiting force; a compelling, strategic marketing and advertising campaign; and powerful technology and processes.
To accomplish this, AFRS is founded on a network of more than 1,300 recruiters -- all of which have volunteered for this special duty. Their mission: To inspire, engage and recruit the brightest, most competitive and diverse men and women for service in America's Air Force.
A recruiter, on average, works with 110 prospective applicants to get one person to Basic Military Training. And, for every one Air Force recruiter there are 13 recruiters from the other services -- all competing for the best and brightest candidates from the same pool of eligible youth.
"Recruiting is fundamentally a human endeavor" and its success depends largely on relationships with influencers in the community and how our Air Force is perceived," the general emphasized.
"I have always believed a recruiter must set the example of professionalism and military image and have character that draws young people to them," said Senior Master Sgt. Kathleen McCool, a seven-year recruiting veteran and one of the Air Force's 12 Outstanding Airmen of the Year. "Once the young person can identify and see an example in their recruiter, they will be inspired to follow in their footsteps."
This personal interaction is the underlying foundation of recruiting success, according to the AFRS commander.
Building community relationships, is just one example of what Ayyar is calling the "recruiter after next" -- a part of the AFRS transformation that is setting up the next generation of recruiters for success.
"Along with a strategy to focus on what will make the "recruiter after next" successful, we have to increase the productivity of our recruiting force," Ayyar said. "Right now we are about 30 percent behind the other services in terms of technology, funding and manpower. Our new applicant processing technology, plus a revamped backbone will bring us into a much more competitive position."
Ayyar said that ultimately the AFRS's competitive advantage is "our Airmen, whose professionalism and spirit convey what an exceptional opportunity serving in the United States Air Force is."
In addition to strategies that engage with prospective recruits face-to-face, such as sponsorships, AFRS is rolling out a social media campaign to engage in youth in their social sphere. These efforts to inspire and educate youth are tailored to help them make smart career decisions.
"We are doing a lot more inspiring and engaging in the online environment with this newer generation of young Americans," Ayyar said. "So naturally, we are developing tools to help young men and women who are looking for information and an experience in that environment to help them understand what our service is about."
"We are also decentralizing our marketing efforts to allow recruiting squadrons to market more locally and regionally. This will help nurture important relationships with community leaders," he added.
By the fall of 2011, each recruiter will have their own Facebook page and potential applicants will also be able to access the Airmen stories Facebook page - a page dedicated to seeing, hearing and reading about real Airmen and their experiences in the Air Force.
"In this environment we have to be authentic, and there's no better way to do that than with real Airmen whose stories will give young men and women a chance to validate what they believe about these opportunities and our Air Force." Ayyar said.
Online social media isn't the only environment AFRS relies on to reach potential applicants. General Ayyar emphasized that the larger Air Force network of active duty Airmen is essential to recruiting success.
Under the "We are all Recruiters" umbrella, AFRS will launch a program within the next year that rewards Airmen for referring qualified applicants who enlist.
"This program will offer fun and interesting awards to Airmen who are inspiring others to join," Ayyar said. "It kind of deputizes them as an Air Force recruiter and recognizes the influence they have on young men and women in their communities."
Whether online or in-person, the storytelling and conversations recruiters and other active-duty Airmen have about the Air Force all lead to one thing -- a prospective applicant getting the idea that they too, could live to their potential as an Airman in the Air Force.
Enhanced Recruiting capabilities
As the most technologically advanced service, technology also plays an increasing role in Air Force efforts to connect with future Airmen.
"Air, Space and Cyberspace are domains in which technology plays an important role," Ayyar said. "Our Airmen have to reflect that comfort with technology that our reputation demands."
Current AFRS initiatives include developing Smartphone applications, enhancing the interactive AIRFORCE.com website, and equipping recruiters with high tech tools for processing applicants.
"Everything AFRS is planning today is about preparing for what we believe will be a tough recruiting environment ahead," Ayyar stated.
"None of these capabilities are for show-- they are for increasing our productivity and affirming our reputation and authenticity," he said.
This summer AFRS will be releasing a Smartphone application intended to inspire young men and women interested in aviation. The "Make it Fly" application is the first of many intended to align the Air Force with the science, technology, engineering and math disciplines. Disciplines that underpin the capabilities the Air Force provides the nation.
In the "Make it Fly" app, users will be able to design their own aircraft and fly it through nine different levels (or missions). The desired outcome is that the features and strategy of the new application will appeal to those who want to challenge themselves and test their knowledge. This free application will be available for download by the beginning of September.
AFRS is in the early development stages of the virtual recruiter initiative for AIRFORCE.com. This initiative is just one example of a technology being developed that will enhance online recruiting capability.
The virtual recruiter would be an avatar, modeled after an active duty Airman, who can talk about the Air Force's core values and capabilities, providing a more informative and interactive experience for potential applicants browsing the website.
Another endeavor is to provide recruiters with a mobile office that will enhance a recruiter's personal interaction with potential applicants and increase their productivity. AFRS will be equipping recruiters with a tablet, in place of their current personal computers, that would include a suite of recruiting applications, designed to provide recruiters with an all-in-one applicant processing software in which they can manage and process recruits comprehensively, as well as have information about the Air Force at their fingertips.
"What we are doing in AFRS right now is expanding our presence and enriching our content," Ayyar said. "The technology we are engaging in offers an improved experience for the user and better tools for our recruiters."
For AFRS, innovation is the mantra.
"To remain the service of choice for the highest performing young Americans, we have to adapt to the environment and our target audience. The simple truth is they [young men and women] are using the net and web in a more comprehensive way and we've got to be there to inspire them," Ayyar emphasized.
"There's no question, some of AFRS's transformation is driven by the fact that the Air Force has the smallest recruiting force in the nation and that we are the service with the highest expectations for new recruits, " he said. "We simply can't afford not to innovate, as difficult as change is, it is much less costly to stay competitive than it is to get competitive. America's Air Force begins in AFRS."