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Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment 1 Introduction The Department of Defense (DoD) faces short- and long-term challenges in selecting and recruiting an enlisted force to meet the personnel requirements associated with diverse and ever-changing missions at home and abroad. The country’s awareness of the need for a high-quality and well-trained military was significantly heightened by the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Recruiting an all-volunteer force is a difficult task: in order to get one eligible recruit, an Army recruiter must contact approximately 120 young people. In 1997 and 1998, some of the Services fell short of their recruiting goals. During this time, the economy was strong, jobs in the private sector were plentiful, over 60 percent of high school graduates were attending their freshman year of college, and the interest or propensity of youth to enlist in one of the military Services was decreasing. Since then, the economy has suffered some setbacks, college aspirations have remained constant or increased, and, importantly, propensity has continued to decrease, particularly among those youth who meet the military standards of graduating from high school with a diploma and scoring in the top half of the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). THE CHALLENGE AND THE CHARGE In light of these concerns, the DoD asked the National Academy of Sciences, through its National Research Council, to establish the Committee on the Youth Population and Military Recruitment to provide information about the demographic characteristics, skill levels, attitudes, and
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Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment values of the youth population, to examine options available to youth following high school graduation, and to recommend various recruiting and advertising strategies and incentive programs with the goal of increasing propensity and facilitating enlistment. Specifically the committee was asked to undertake a series of interrelated tasks designed to provide a sound scientific basis for both short- and long-range planning.1 These tasks include the following: Develop a complete profile of American youth today and in the future. Create a multidimensional characterization of youth using scientific literature that offers insight into their motivations, interests, behavior, values, and attitudes. Evaluate demographic trends in light of existing and potential recruiting strategies, training, and retention. Examine survey data on perceptions of military service, primary influencers of these perceptions, and the desirability of enlisting, with specific attention to subgroup differences. Identify further analyses and interpretations of survey items and data and consider valid ways of getting the data into practice quickly. Examine the changing nature of work generally and the new demands placed on the military in the post-Cold War era. Also, consider alternative choices for youth—the civilian workforce and postsecondary education—and explore the implications of current and projected trends in work and education as they influence approaches to selecting and attracting youth with the needed skills, abilities, and attitudes. Review and evaluate advertising programs directed at youth (e.g., anti-drug and anti-smoking campaigns, education, safe sex) to determine methods for creating an effective recruiting message. Examine the literature on advertising, communication, and attitude theory and measurement to determine how the characteristics and motivations of current and future generations can be linked to the design of military recruiting efforts. Develop policy options. Consider a full range of personnel options for expanding the pool of recruits, including greater coordination of procedures among the military Services; coordination with alternative government agency programs, such as the Job Corps and the Corporation for National Service; material and psychological incentives that may enhance recruiting success by subgroup; and changes in pay scales and the duration of enlistment. 1 These tasks comprise substantially the effort referred to as phase 1 in the original version (or earlier versions) of the task statement.
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Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment The committee assembled to accomplish the charge is composed of experts from the following disciplines: demography, military sociology, adolescent development, economics, advertising and communication, and private sector management. The committee decided early in its deliberations to work on ways to improve recruiting within the current military structure. Such issues as length of term and coordination with agencies outside the military establishment would require additional studies and were beyond the scope of the current committee. The policy options examined in the report include maintaining competitive pay and benefits, employing structural changes in compensation, pursuing ways for enlistees to gain a college degree while serving in the military, developing consistent advertising themes that build on strengths offered by military service, and employing better methods to select, train, and motivate recruiters. CONTEXT Current and projected military manpower requirements and historical trends in force characteristics provide a picture of the demand side for military recruiters and one element of the context for the committee’s work. Topics of particular importance with regard to manpower requirements include the kinds of missions the Services expect to perform, the characteristics of military jobs and the skills that will be needed to perform them, and the anticipated size and structure of the force. Historical trends and the current status of military enlisted personnel provide important information about changes in force size, distribution of occupational specialties and skills, levels of first-term attrition, and reenlistment percentages. Since the end of the Cold War, the active military force has been reduced by more than one-third and at the same time has been asked to respond to a large number of diverse missions. As a result of the attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has focused its commitments on defending against terrorism at home and fighting it around the world. However, fighting the global war on terrorism does not diminish other commitments for peacekeeping, providing humanitarian aid, and war fighting. According to the latest Quadrennial Defense Review (U.S. Department of Defense, 2001), DoD is now required to provide a large rotational base of military personnel to support long-standing commitments as well as to respond to small-scale contingency operations. The Services have calculated deployment numbers in multiples of three for each mission—one Service member engaged in a mission, one returning, and one in training. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, each Service chief requested personnel increases for the upcoming year (March 7, 2002).
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Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment The Services are currently in the process of transformation. This involves, among other things, the development of smaller, more flexible units and the application of technology advances to equipment design. The Army is developing a family of ground combat systems that provide digitized information exchange; the Navy is automating a wide range of functions in smart ships such as the DD-X, and the Air Force and the Navy are exploring the development of remotely piloted, armed aircraft. Both the advances in technology and anticipated missions provide critical requirements for determining the size and shape of the force and specifying both recruiting and retention goals. Recruiting goals and the resulting challenge for recruiters are determined by anticipated shortfalls in the specified force size (end strength) and skill distribution. These shortfalls can be a result of attrition during the first term of service, voluntary losses based on those who do not reenlist when their term of service expires, or an overall increase in the number of personnel required. First-term attrition is primarily due to behavioral and medical problems for young men and behavioral problems and pregnancy for young women. Voluntary separations for those personnel whom the Services would like to retain are generally attributed to dissatisfaction by either the enlisted personnel or their spouses with compensation or quality of life. The Services have developed several programs to reduce unwanted losses; however, the data show that first-term attrition remains high—at approximately 30 percent—and many personnel whom the Services would like to retain are leaving for civilian jobs or to pursue additional education. The second element of context for the committee’s work is the source of supply for military jobs—the youth population. The characteristics of youth and the options available to them narrow the pool of individuals who are interested in serving and those who ultimately are selected. The important factors to be considered about the youth population include (1) the projected size and demographic composition; (2) the trends in basic knowledge, skill, physical, and moral characteristics; (3) opportunities and aspirations regarding employment and education; and (4) values and attitudes regarding service to country and the features of military service, including quality of life. APPROACH AND REPORT ORGANIZATION There are a large number of hypothesized causes for the military’s recruiting difficulties over the past several years, as well as a similar set of hypotheses about potential effects on recruiting effectiveness in the future. The committee’s goal in this report is to identify and examine a wide variety of such causal factors. Some of these are factors within the control
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Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment of decision makers (e.g., pay and benefits, recruiting practices, advertising messages), while others are not (e.g., changes in the size of the cohort eligible for military service, changes in the skill levels of American youth). In examining each of these factors, the committee’s perspective is forward-looking, that is, the focus is not on producing a definitive answer to the question of what caused the military recruiting shortfalls of recent years, but rather on identifying factors likely to influence future recruiting effectiveness. Given the broad set of individual, situational, organizational, and societal influences on decisions about military service, there was no expectation that a single factor would account for recruiting effectiveness. We hoped, however, to identify a small set of important variables from among a broader array of possible factors affecting recruiting effectiveness. The report is structured around a set of potential contributing factors. Following this introduction, the report begins, in Chapter 2, with a discussion of demand factors, inquiring about possible changes in overall force size and structure, in the aptitude levels needed for effective performance, in the physical demands of military work, in the moral and character requirements of military work, and in the levels of attrition and retention. Chapter 3 examines the demographic context for armed forces recruitment. The size and composition of the youth population are fundamental constraints on future recruitment efforts. Forecasts are provided for the size and some aspects of the composition of the youth population for the next 15 to 20 years. The accuracy of these predictions is high because they are based on persons who are already born. Chapter 4 reviews the four major domains in which military applicants are screened: aptitudes (indexed by the AFQT), educational attainment (possession of a high school diploma), physical and medical qualification, and moral character (e.g., lack of a criminal record). In each of these domains, the Services’ current enlistment requirements are examined and evaluated for possible changes in the future. The chapter then turns to a review of the evidence regarding the current supply of youth possessing the needed characteristics and the likelihood that the proportions will change over time. Chapter 5 includes an examination of the three major options available to the youth who make up the prime military recruiting market: joining the military, entering the civilian labor market, or pursuing higher education. Particular emphasis is placed on the changing landscape regarding (1) participation in postsecondary education and opportunities available to youth in the civilian labor market and (2) aspects of these alternatives that compete with the service options or may be fruitfully combined with them.
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Attitudes, Aptitudes, and Aspirations of American Youth: Implications for Military Recruitment Chapter 6 presents data on the changes in youth attitudes, values, perceptions, and influencers over the past two decades, including major findings from extensive long-term longitudinal and cross-sectional research on youth attitudes, as well as on the relationship between youth attitudes and the propensity to enlist. Chapter 7 offers an integrated theory of behavioral choice that can productively guide future research on the determinants of propensity and of actual enlistment. Chapter 8 examines a range of issues involving military advertising and recruiting, including goals, strategies, and messages. Advertising is a part of the broad recruitment process, and we examine this process more generally, including a comparison with recruiting practices in the civilian labor market. Chapter 9 presents the committee’s conclusions and recommendations based on the analyses provided in each of the chapters. The final section of this chapter draws the implications of the committee’s overarching conclusions and recommendations. In the course of the study, the committee prepared two letter reports, one on evaluation of the Youth Attitudes Tracking Study (Appendix A) and the other on the scientific underpinnings of the popular literature on generations (Appendix B). Biographical sketches of committee members also are included (Appendix C).
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