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Study Looks at Recruiting and Retention in the Age of COVID

Washington Report

A new study found that military services enlisted fewer new recruits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, instead focusing on retention to meet end strength goals.

The RAND Corporation report was released earlier this month. It’s titled “What Happened to Military Recruiting and Retention of Enlisted Personnel in 2020 During the COVID-19 Pandemic?”

According to the report, the military added about 16,000 fewer recruits in 2020 than the roughly 171,000 new troops who joined the previous year.

It noted that while recruitment was down, recruits were generally better qualified, based on aptitude tests and education levels.

Personnel end strength and retention increased in each service except for the Marine Corps. And accessions decreased in each service except for the Navy.

The Army increased end strength, decreased accessions and increased retention, all while improving the quality of recruits, in part by relying more heavily on recruits with prior military service.

The Air Force increased end strength, decreased accessions, increased retention and increased the quality of recruits.

The study said restrictions on in-person recruiting were likely responsible for the decrease in contracts and accessions. But an increased unemployment rate and a drop in injury-causing exercises played a role in increased retention.

The recruiting and retention trends continued in the last fiscal year, according to Stars and Stripes, citing Pentagon data for fiscal year 2021 that shows the military services each met their recruiting goals in 2021, while they accepted almost 7,000 fewer troops into the services than in 2020.

The full Rand report is available online at Rand.org.