Army recruiting brigades across the country hope to double the number of virtual job fairs through the end of the year to become more savvy at reaching young people amid COVID-19 restrictions likely to persist into 2021.
"The environment that we are operating in is probably the most challenging environment that the U.S. Army has ever recruited in," Col. Fred Dente, commander of 1st Recruiting Brigade, told Military.com this month.
Dente's 1,500 recruiters work in the northeast, covering states like Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maine. His unit has done virtual job fairs before, "but not anywhere close to this scale," he said.
"In the last quarter we did 34 job fairs ... this quarter we are going to do 60 fairs," Dente said, describing the larger effort in U.S. Army Recruiting Command (USAREC) to find new ways to become more effective at virtual recruiting.
"This is us kind of wrapping our minds around the fact that this is now part of the operating environment, and we are not going to be successful ... if we are not putting ourselves into this domain," Dente said.
"Because so much of our face-to-face prospecting is not safe to do or it is not efficient to do anymore, this has become a much larger part of our operation."
USAREC has also launched a new pilot program that will equip a select number of recruiters with mobile recruiting station equipment so they can expand into untapped areas of the country. It's part of a plan to become more effective as USAREC cuts its recruiting force by about 1,700 recruiters over the next year.
In addition to joining more virtual job fairs this quarter, USAREC and its six recruiting brigades will likely expand its virtual job fair effort next spring, Brig. Gen. Patrick Michaelis, deputy commanding general of USAREC, told Military.com.
"We are not sitting on our hands; we are adapting to the conditions in a way that allows us to fulfill the nation's mission that they have given us to make sure we meet our accessions mission." Michaelis said.
USAREC forged ahead into the world of virtual recruiting after the pandemic forced it to temporarily close its recruiting stations in March to prevent the spread of the virus.
And while USAREC met its goal for fiscal year 2020, the virtual recruiting world still poses challenges to recruiters trying to reach young people, Dente said.
"It does take a certain technical savvy of understanding how to communicate effectively in this venue and not everybody is equally good at it," he said. "Some of our soldiers are really comfortable with it and have a knack for it; others are better at prospecting in other ways."
But recruiting units are becoming more practiced at joining existing virtual job fairs being held by unemployment agencies, schools or private companies, Dente said.
"A lot of them will have like a web page and you can link into a chat room ... and you can click into a chatroom," he said. "Somebody might go to a virtual job fair because they want to be a policeman and that is a tough field to get into, so you might not know we have policemen in the Army until you go in there and on the website is U.S. Army [military police] corps."
People that are going into these job fairs generally have some college and "are looking for some technical career field like firefighter, medical field -- MPs is a big one," Dente said.
Recruiters are geographically matched up with potential applicants through zip codes, Dente said.
"If you put in your zip code, you get sent to the station that owns your area," Dente said. "We contact them while they are still interested, while it's fresh in their mind, and say 'Hey, we saw you were interested in this career field. When do you want to talk?'"
The challenging part of this is turning the leads generated in the virtual job fairs into recruiting contracts, Dente said.
Dente's brigade got about 380 leads from the job fairs it participated in last quarter. Of those 380 leads, about 25% of them will not qualify for service because they have a criminal record or a medical condition that disqualifies them, he said. And many won't score high enough on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) to qualify for service.
"Of the 380, roughly, on a good day, maybe 100 will turn into contracts," Dente said.
Dente said he is confident that his brigade will capture twice as many leads in the 60 virtual job fairs this fiscal quarter.
"I would say, we will do more than twice that number of leads because the product is getting better and our soldiers are getting better at this venue," Dente said.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.