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Vol. 46, No. 4
A new program lets Army recruits commit to private-sector jobs early--and lets employers help guide the soldiers' development.
Imagine a recruiting program that lets someone else find your prospective employees, match them to your job descriptions and train them in skills you want, while simultaneously helping these young recruits mature and learn about reliability.
Now imagine that in exchange for using this one-stop recruitment and training shop, you have to wait at least three years to get the employee through your door.
That’s the tradeoff in a new recruiting program the U.S. Army hopes will meet its need for new soldiers while helping private-sector employers meet their needs for employees a few years down the road.
The program, called the Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS), is a departure from the way the military services usually bring employers and military members together.
Rather than waiting until a soldier is nearing the end of his enlistment, then linking the soldier with various employers at that time, PaYS connects the soldier with one specific employer far earlier—at the time the soldier initially enlists. Throughout the three- to six-year enlistment, the solider knows who his prospective employer is and what specific job awaits him. While the Army’s focus is on making the recruit into a soldier, not on providing job training for the private sector, the soldier can choose military occupations that will help him prepare for his private-sector job. At the same time, the employer can build a relationship with the future employee.
According to the Army and participating employers, PaYS takes planning and patience on the part of employers. They are promising jobs to people that won’t be available to work for several years. And the program is so new that no employer yet has seen a soldier walk through its doors as an employee; the soldiers who have signed up so far are still in the first year of their Army careers. But participating employers say they believe the Army could be a good source of diverse, qualified candidates.
How PaYS Works
The program was born last summer in response to the need to boost recruitment, according to the program director, Col. Robert Qualls at Fort Knox in Knoxville, Tenn.
For the Army, the program also serves another purpose: increasing the military’s visibility among civilians like those working for the employers PaYS serves. "A lot of people in civilian life have no contact with the military," Qualls says. "If you discount the World War II veterans, only 6 percent of the population of the U.S. has served in the military. We see [PaYS] as a way to sell a positive image of the Army."
Five months into the program, PaYS had signed up 22 recruits and had seven employers participating. But Qualls says the program is designed to enlist up to 5,000 people each year, and he expects to have that many total participants by 2002 as word spreads among recruits and as the numbers of employers increase.
PaYS is targeted at new recruits, who generally are between the ages of 17 and 21. When the recruits choose from among nearly 100 Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) for which they will train, they also can troll the Army’s PaYS database for a similar, specific job with a company that agrees to hire them after they’ve completed their military service. The database includes participating employers’ detailed job descriptions. The Army links each job description to an MOS.
For example, a new recruit who signs up for MOS 81L—namely, lithography—can look through the PaYS jobs to see which openings match the experience she’ll gain in the Army as a lithographer. If she finds a match, she signs a letter of intent indicating that she’ll take the job when her stint in the Army is completed.
The letter of intent is not legally binding, so there is no penalty imposed on employers that renege on their promise of a job. Qualls notes that the Army is well aware that economic vagaries such as a recession could eliminate the jobs employers predict will exist in several years. The soldier’s letter of intent gives her preferred hiring status, not a guaranteed job, Qualls says. If an employer reneges, the Army helps soldiers find other jobs.
But the letter of intent also is not legally binding on the soldier. If a soldier agrees to take a job but later decides to re-enlist, the Army says it will help the employer find a qualified replacement through other channels, such as its more traditional job programs for departing service members, according to Qualls.
Qualls adds that most participating employers plan to give PaYS participants work credit for their military experience, even though the Army does not require employers to do so. "Generally, [PaYS participants will] start out where someone who had comparable experience in the workforce would rather than at entry level," says Qualls.
No Chance to Check Candidates
Employers do not have an opportunity to meet with or screen PaYS participants before the recruit signs up for employers’ jobs. Army guidance counselors handle recruits’ questions and help recruits decide on jobs.
The lack of any chance to check out recruits before they accept a PaYS job doesn’t disturb State Farm Insurance, one of the seven employers currently participating. "We’re not hiring the person enlisting in the Army," says Tracey Anderson, State Farm superintendent of corporate human resources in Bloomington, Ill. "We’re hiring the person they’ll be when they come out."
General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), a defense contractor based in Sterling Heights, Mich., also has no problem with the fact that it can’t approve its future employees at the start of their enlistments, says Rich Reichenbach, director of personnel, planning and integration. "If someone enlists, goes through all the Army training, service and testing, they’re going to be a quality employee," he says. "If they’re good enough for the Army, they’re certainly good enough for us."
Employers will get to put PaYS recruits through the employers’ own hiring processes once the soldiers leave the Army. For example, Pepsi Bottling Group (PBG) of Somers, N.Y., plans to put its PaYS participants through the same screening process as any other applicants. But PBG won’t perform any drug testing or background checks because the Army already performs those checks on soldiers—saving PBG time and money, notes Cecilia McKenney, PBG’s vice president of staffing and diversity.
At State Farm, Anderson says, the company will send PaYS participants through its usual hiring process. "We expect a much higher success rate with PaYS people because we know their background," she says.
Why Employers Sign Up
Even though participating employers say they’re comfortable letting the Army match recruits to jobs for them, why are they committing themselves to a program in which the payoff—in the form of employees—could take years?
PBG hopes the program will improve its workforce’s diversity. McKenney says the partnership makes good business sense. "The Army’s values mirror our values as far as affirmative action goes, so we see the Army as a great source to find the diversity of applicants we’re looking for," she says.
For GDLS, PaYS could provide employees who have specific skills the company wants. Many of the Army’s occupational specialties, such as tank mechanic and electrical technician, match the company’s existing job descriptions.
"When we first heard about Army PaYS, we had a light bulb kind of moment. We have a lot of common ground with the Army so we thought, why not do this?" explains Reichenbach.
For State Farm Insurance, which expects to post openings for insurance representatives, the work ethic of PaYS participants is more important than any specific technical training.
"We do have some work available in medical claims which will be a good fit for those who have medical training, but that’s not reflective of most of the positions we’ll be listing," Anderson says.
Forecasting Future Hiring
With a long wait for employees in store, employers need to be able to predict future hiring needs in order to participate in the PaYS program effectively.
"We have been focusing in on [promoting PaYS to] many companies on the Fortune 500 because they have predictable staffing needs," Qualls says, although he notes that smaller companies have begun expressing interest. "As the program matures, we hope to find ways to work with companies of all sizes."
GDLS has little trouble in determining its future needs. "We have pretty predictable hiring needs," Reichenbach says. "We know what our general attrition rates are and can make projections."
Because PBG is growing, identifying future openings is part of HR’s regular workload. "We set targets and review them every four weeks," McKenney says. PBG hopes to hire 3,000 people through PaYS in the next few years, including salespeople, equipment technicians, forklift operators, mechanics and merchandisers, McKenney says.
For other companies, including State Farm, predicting employment needs so far into the future is trickier, Anderson says. To accommodate PaYS, the company has asked each of its HR units to forecast its needs.
Sustaining a Relationship
Once employers forecast their needs and give the Army their job descriptions, they have another decision to make. Employers need to decide how much contact they will have with their PaYS participants.
The program does not require employers to have any contact with participants until three to six months prior to the end of their military service, but employers can contact their future employees much earlier if they choose. One advantage of early contact is that the employer can direct the soldier toward educational opportunities that match the waiting job. While on active duty, soldiers have access to government tuition assistance—meaning that employers receive the benefit of Army-funded professional development.
State Farm hopes to capitalize on this, Anderson says. "We’ll tell [soldiers] if they’ll have a better chance for advancement if they pursue a college degree or if specific courses would be useful to their careers," she says. State Farm also plans to assign an HR contact to each recruit, to give the recruit a single point of contact with the employer.
Other companies have opted for communications of a more general nature. PBG will assign HR contacts to communicate with recruits through e-mail, company publications and press releases. As the enlistment nears an end, the soldier will hear more from PBG about the specific job.
Both State Farm and GDLS have linked their web sites to the PaYS site so recruits can take a closer look at the company and what it offers. PBG has gone a step further, creating a promotional video shown at Army recruiting offices.
Andrea C. Poe is a freelance writer based in Easton, Md., who specializes in human resource and management issues.
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