Struggling to recruit new soldiers, the British Army collaborated  with Accenture to enter previously uncharted territory with a new recruitment campaign. Focused around the sense of “belonging” that comes from joining and operating in the armed services, it showcased the deep friendships and camaraderie that military personnel experience, heightened by the opportunity to make a real and positive difference to the world.

Over the following three years, this messaging was expanded and fine-tuned through successive campaigns – culminating in 2020’s “Army Confidence Lasts a Lifetime”, showing how being in the Army enables young people to build lifelong self-confidence.

The cumulative result of these campaigns? Applications to join the British Army leapt. Just days after the launch of the “Confidence” campaign, the record was broken for the highest number of applications received in a single day. A month after launch, 141% of the Army’s application target was reached.

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A competitive marketplace

The cumulative success of these campaigns says a lot about military recruitment in today’s world.

To hire and retain the best talent, armed forces are now in head-to-head competition with other industries, including high-paying ones like tech and financial services. What’s more, most countries no longer have military service programmes providing a ready flow of recruits.

Whether a nation has military service or not, the fact remains that there is a new generation of talent who don’t instinctively perceive the armed forces as one of their top career options. The challenge for military recruitment is how to change this perception among the young people it needs to win over.

More than “just a job”

In my view, the “belonging” campaigns provide an object lesson in how to engineer this change. Why? Because young generations today are looking for employment that’s more than just a job. They’re actively seeking career options that make them feel they’re part of something bigger and helping to tackle major problems – be it through benefitting their nation, the climate, deprived communities, or other causes close to their heart.  

Achieving this sense of belonging and “giving something back” to the world is very important to millennials and Gen Z. So, when the armed forces are competing for their attention against other career options, it’s not all – or even largely – about money. It’s about the inspiration, experience, and self-worth that each career can provide. And here military service – if communicated and depicted in the right way – wins hands-down over virtually all other choices.

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Creating the right joining experience

To make the most of this inherent advantage, military recruitment must inspire and engage potential joiners from the very first contact point. This need brings profound implications not just for recruitment messaging, but also for the joining experience and process.

In the old days, when competition for the best talent was perhaps less intense, the interview process for potential recruits would have been less pressurised. Today, however, this is no longer the case. Once selected, offers need to be made to in-demand talent as soon as possible or they’re likely to look at other options. 

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Young generations today are looking for employment that’s more than just a job. They’re actively seeking career options that make them feel they’re part of something bigger and helping to tackle major problems.

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Instead, we are observing that more and more recruits are now looking for an experience of joining the military that’s every bit as dynamic, exciting, and inspiring as the career they’re looking to pursue.  For armed forces, this means responding quickly to applicants, and energising them with the vast array of training and development pathways on offer to them. Today’s modern armed forces need diverse skills that range across digital  technology, data science, machine learning, information activity and outreach, sustainability, digital engineering, healthcare, drone piloting, aspiring commanding officers and more – as well as more “corporate” types of talent in functions like finance, IT, and people capability.

Crucially, all of these career options are suffused and underpinned with the chance to belong to something bigger and make a difference. The effect is to show young people what a career in the military will really mean for them, through a joining experience that truly mirrors the same qualities that attracted them in the first place.

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Sustaining the excitement

While a sense of belonging and an inspiring joining experience are key to defence recruitment, their power and importance don’t suddenly stop the day a candidate signs up. Far from it. Instead, the feeling of contributing to something bigger, making a real difference and gaining a series of experiences that are simply unavailable elsewhere needs to continue beyond day one – and then be sustained throughout a joiner’s career.

How to do this? The answer lies in harnessing the power of data, freeing it from its traditional siloes and letting it flow freely organisation-wide. This is what I’ll focus on in my next blog.

Meanwhile, if you’ve noticed a change in how today’s generation approaches a career in the armed forces, I’d be fascinated to hear about it. Please drop me a line.

Marni Poropat

Director – Consulting, Public Service, Australia and New Zealand

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