Often, when I visit a unit recruiting activity I watch commanders, recruiting officers, well-intending senior members, and cadets pushing aspects of the program or events that really are not applicable to new members, or even to their unit as a whole.
Hey, recruiters talk a lot about the activities available in the organization to prospective members. That’s natural. Tell ‘em what we have to offer!
But too often I see a huge emphasis on activities such as IACE and other NCSAs that are not really applicable to new members.
We (CAP members) understand that these are activities that are available to cadets. Eventually. But in reality these activities are only available to a subset of cadets, and in most cases only after 12-36 months of participation.
Using IACE as an example: This is an activity that requires a cadet to reach the Earhart Award. In other words, only after a cadet has progressed about 3/4 of the way through the cadet program. That's something along the lines of a 3 year event horizon. The reality is that less than 5% of our cadets actually reach a point where they can attend an event like this. So why are we selling people on the 5%?
Prospective Cadet Snuffy is not going to join Civil Air Patrol in September and find himself touring England next year. Similarly, Blue Beret, AETCFC, and other events like that are all “after next summer” events.
And this doesn’t just happen with Cadet Programs and NCSAs, either. When recruiting, some units tend to focus on program elements that are not applicable in their area.
A good example is ground search and rescue. Some wings are heavily involved in it, certainly. But other wings or units have little or no involvement. It is disingenuous for a unit with no ground team, and in a wing with essentially no involvement in ground SAR, to heavily push that aspect of the program to potential members. It sets you up for an “expectation mis-match” with new members.
This mis-match, between a new member's expectations of what they'll be doing, and the reality on the ground in the units, is a big reason why a lot of members leave the organization. In short: sometimes we’re selling something that we can’t deliver on.
A better approach during the recruiting phase is to instead concentrate on the program elements that are directly before the potential cadet or senior member, and that the unit actually participates in. Unit level activities, encampments, orientation flights, aerospace education, leadership training, air shows, parades, fun events, emergency services or communications training, etc.
These are the things that new members are going to be doing in the first year after they join, not hopping on an Air Force C-130 and flying to Oshkosh next week. (As much as we’d all like to, right?) Or rappelling down a mountain with a stokes litter...
Bring new members into Civil Air Patrol on the basis of all the cool things you’re doing now , locally, and let them find out about all the great things they might be able to do later.
Lt Col Darin Ninness, CAP
National Recruiting & Retention Manager