Great Start Introduction
What is Great Start?
Cadet Great Start is a program designed to bring in new cadet members and give them a great introduction to the CAP Cadet Program and support them through earning their first achievement in eight weeks. In addition to the orientation for new cadets, materials are provided to support the annual Squadron Open House, a cohort recruiting mode, and cadet cadre leadership training. Units that adopt a suggested Cadet Great Start program have an advantage in cadet recruiting and retention, the Quality Cadet Unit Award, and cadet and parent satisfaction.
Building strong squadrons: trickle-in v cohort
Training and retention are connected. The best way to retain cadets is to engage them with worthwhile activities. Cadet Great Start is designed to offer meaningful, exciting, well-organized activities to transform prospective cadets into cadet airmen.
The Cadet Program can be complicated and hard to navigate for new members. As of August 2022 only 21% of new cadet members earn their Curry Achievement within 8 weeks of joining, a strategic goal. It’s important to have a strong framework for bringing in new members and helping them feel comfortable and accomplished early in their membership.
By far the most common objection to cohort recruiting is the fear that if you turn away prospective cadets who want to join right now, they may lose interest and not return. It’s critical to remember that you’re not turning them away, you’re actively inviting them to join the next cohort and giving them the best shot of having a successful cadet career over the longer term. Have a communication plan to keep in contact with the prospective cadet and family and they’ll be ready and motivated when the next cohort kicks off.
Looking at cadet orientation as a system, it seems that commanders have three options:
Trickle-In. The first and most common system is the “trickle-in” approach whereby the squadron allows prospective cadets to join at any time, so the unit will constantly have one or two new cadets, but rarely more. Commanders know the new cadets have training needs, but with everything else going on in a squadron, most units do not find it feasible to devote precious resources to the new cadets. Instead, new cadets fall-in with the experienced cadets, and are left on their own to progress in CAP. Is it any surprise that two-thirds of new cadets leave CAP during their first year?
Basic Cadet Training. The second option is the “Basic Cadet Training” or “Camp Curry” approach where squadrons send new cadets to the group or wing for a weekend of training offered a few times a year. The obvious benefit here is that new cadets receive training designed to meet their needs. However, if a cadet joins and has to wait for weeks for the next BCT, they’re usually left hanging in the wind for that time. The cadet is likely lost during the meetings and by the time the training rolls around some may be redundant. Still, sometimes a BCT-style approach is the most practical option, so this course has an alternative schedule for this orientation format.
Pipeline. The third option for orientating prospective and new cadets is called “pipeline” or “cohort” training and is the most ideal format for this course. Under the pipeline concept, between one to four times a year the squadron holds a recruiting drive that brings in several cadets at once. This allows the squadron to justify setting-up a special flight of new cadets, where they will receive training designed to meet their needs.
The benefits of cohort recruiting are many. Cadets are immediately surrounded by a built-in peer group and will naturally make friends more easily. Since the training they receive is designed specifically for them, they’ll receive all the information they need at just the right time. They have the dedicated support of wingmen and a supportive cadet cadre who can identify any roadblocks more easily than if they were on their own in flight of more advanced cadets. And the cadet cadre is made of more experienced cadets who equally benefit from practicing their leadership skills. Since squadrons are required to host an Open House once a year, it’s a natural fit to have an associated cohort of new cadets brought in by this activity. Many squadrons practicing pipelining offer these onboarding opportunities more frequently, two to six times a year, to allow for more entry points for prospective members. Still, many squadron leaders have reservations about limiting new membership to these exact moments. It may be helpful to recall that most other youth organizations have specific enrollment times. Sports run for specific seasons and once registration is closed, that’s it. Even year-round activities and sports typically have specific times for new members to join. So while it may feel uncomfortable for units that are used to allowing new members to join immediately, most families will be understanding of a clearly communicated policy.
Additionally, while units who’ve been successful with cohort recruiting may start off offering a Great Start every two months to limit the wait time, they often come around to preferring offering fewer, higher quality cohorts than more frequent groups. It’s important to take the needs of your members and your local community into account when planning for recruiting and orientation.
Cadet Great Start is an optional support program that can be administered as designed, in one of it’s alternative formats, or further adapted, depending on your local needs.