Guest opinion: Military also adjusting to worker shortages

When our military is viewed as an employer, it has the same problem as the private sector; attracting qualified people to fill jobs.

In today’s vibrant economy, there is an abundance of “Help Wanted” signs. Even though our armed forces have stepped up their enlistment bonuses, they still fall short of their recruitment goals. There are just fewer qualified people in the employment pool to fill jobs which require higher educational standards, more skills, a willingness to work hard, and the dexterity to be part of a team.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) found nationally, one-quarter of small employers have open positions of which 56 percent were full-time jobs.

Complicating the problem is one-fourth of the applicants lack the necessary job-specific skills and nearly half fall short on social acumen. NFIB found other notable reasons disqualifying job seekers are poor attitude, inappropriate appearance, unreasonable wage expectations, insufficient English, math and communications competencies, and, failed drug testing. Military recruiters add lack of physical fitness to that list.

“We face a challenging recruiting environment in which our Marine recruiters have to overcome the fact that to begin with, 75 percent of age-qualified youth are unqualified for service due to medical, moral or educational issues,” Marine Gunnery Sgt. Justin Kronenberg said.

The shortage, compelled the armed forces to lower their qualifying standards. In 2017, Marine recruiters handed out over 5,100 enlistment waivers which was up by 27 percent from 2015. The majority were for medical conditions.

Further complicating the matter is a Military Times (Times) survey of recruiters from all military branches finds that young people’s interest in the military is at a historic low. Public interest in military service surged 17 years ago following 9/11. The Times reported nearly a quarter of the young men polled after the attacks indicated a future in military service was likely. That number stood at 15 percent last fall, while among young women, it was just 7 percent.

Just as civilian employers are turning to advanced technology to be competitive and respond to worker shortages, so is the military.

“The wave of automation that swept away tens of thousands of American manufacturing and office jobs during the past two decades is now washing over the armed forces,” the San Diego Union Tribune reported.

Michael Horowitz, a University of Pennsylvania professor and one of the foremost experts in weaponized robots, added robots in civilian warehouses that scoot goods to delivery vans can run the same chores in military supply centers. They can even replace Navy frogmen who disarm underwater mines.

Horowitz said because of economic and personnel reasons, the Navy is designing ships which reduce the number of sailors. The new highly automated guided-missile destroyer USS Zumwalt runs with half the crew when compared to similar warships and deploys advanced drones to find targets, map terrain and sniff out bad weather.

Today, there is one robot for every 10 human jobs in the automotive sector, but that doesn’t end the need to employ people. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last January that jobs on auto assembly lines and in parts factories rose 14 percent.

“There’s always a person in the loop,” Joseph Smith of Endeavor Robotics said. “The robot is just an extension of the human hand and the human brain.”

However, what recruiters point out is young people need to take their education seriously, stay away from drugs, be in good physical condition, have a good attitude, dress and act appropriately, and being willing to work hard and learn as a team member if they are to successfully compete for available jobs.

Don Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, after over 25 years as its CEO and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at TheBrunells@msn.com.

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