o, I’m NOT writing about the election results…plenty of other people are doing that.
Besides, the Navy gives me plenty to write about, and this week was no different. In its most recent sign that it can’t recruit enough Sailors, the Navy lifted the age limit on enlistment from 39 to 41. From Military.com:
The Navy, facing an increasingly tough recruiting environment, raised the maximum enlistment age by two years — from 39 to 41 — on Friday in an effort to allow more civilians to join its ranks. “Effective immediately,” recruiters will be able to enlist people who are as old as 41, provided that they don’t hit their 42nd birthday by the time they report to boot camp, a copy of the new policy, provided to Military.com by the Navy, explained. The policy also noted that some service communities like nuclear power, Navy SEALs and divers will continue to be able to set tougher restrictions for their members.Military.com
Now, if joining the military at age 39 sounds a bit old to you…it is. I knew a few people that enlisted in their early twenties, but once you got past the age of 27…enlistment dropped dramatically. There were some officers that joined later, most of them doctors or other medical specialists, but there were not too many 30-somethings beating down the door to join the military, let alone join as a new Sailor and go to boot camp.
How much do I think this change will make a difference? Somewhere between “not at all” and “nothing.”
I did find a USNI article boasting about how the Navy was reaching out with new advertising to Generation Z. So, I watched their new ad.
Now, the videography is good. It’s a pretty tight commercial, well shot and with a good message, although it should have been titled “Never say never” instead of “Never.” So, how well is it doing?
Now, the Navy channel isn’t exactly something lots of people are going to follow for fun, but at least we can see the video is getting views. What is interesting is looking at the most popular videos on the channel as a whole.
Everything that is really popular is older. Like, significantly older. With the exception of a video made a few months back about a SWCC Sailor (well made video and a very cool story!), most of the videos just aren’t popular. I also tried finding Navy eSports videos on Twitch and other platforms, and their viewer level was…pretty low.
Which tells me one thing: all the money the Navy is pouring into advertising isn’t reaching the desired audience…or much of an audience at all. I’ll venture its because the Navy’s narrative is being told through its news stories, which consist of rampant suicide issues, a forced COVID vaccine, and the increasingly truthful notion that veterans are broken people. All of this turns off Generation Z, and really most young people in general, to the idea that they could have any sort of fruitful career in the Navy. Combine that with a strong job market, and you have the recipe for a recruiting disaster.
So, what is next? Well, forcing people to stay longer is already being discussed at USNI:
A ten-year service requirement would change the motivation of most ensigns who join the submarine force, allowing the community to recruit officers who intend to make the Navy a career. This undoubtedly would cause recruiting challenges, but naval aviation is able every year to recruit hundreds of ensigns who are committing ten years of their lives. Some of the recruitment challenges can be ameliorated by the additional benefits that would come from extending the minimum service requirement. - From USNI
There is so much wrong with this idea that it would take another article to explain, but I’ll go with the obvious: when a generation of kids are watching their parents hop between jobs to make increasingly more money, why would they be incentivized to lock into a long contract with the Navy? And, when this approach and others like it don’t work, the military will increasingly force people to the paths it needs, which it has done in the past.
Until the actual issues are addressed concerning the Navy’s mission and how it treats its people, it will continue to not inspire young people to join, and will increasingly become more draconian in its retention approach.
This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency.