The Defense Force is waging a new recruiting drive aimed at attracting 1,200 new recruits each year as it battles high attrition and a tight job market.
The military has faced a surge in attrition since the Covid-19 pandemic, with personnel leaving for better wages in a boiling job market after two years of guarding isolation facilities. The government pledged $90 million to improve wages in the 2022 budget, money that the Defense Force says will soon provide “modest” wage increases.
The latest figures from the Defense Forces showed that in August 2022 the annual attrition rate was 14.2% for the navy, 17.4% for the army, 11.7% for the army of the air and 16.4% for civilian personnel.
To fill the depleted ranks, young people between the ages of 17 and 24 are being targeted by a campaign that has shifted away from promoting the marketable skills and trades of the military to exploiting the desire for an “idealistic or altruistic” career.
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Lt. Col. Sandra Patterson, director of defense recruiting, said the Defense Force has so far reached about 70% of its target of 1,200 recruits for the year. Half of the target is for new army recruits, and some 110 defense trades were also to be filled.
“It’s not uncommon to miss the target…It’s an incredibly difficult recruiting environment right now, with record high unemployment rates and, like any other employer, a highly competitive job market, it’s also difficult for us to find the recruits we need,” Patterson said.
“Because we have so many occupations, some are more difficult to recruit depending on what is happening in the labor market. For a particular occupation, if people perceive there are greater opportunities outside of the NZDF , then it can be quite difficult.”
The latest recruiting effort began in late August and was, for the first time, a primarily digital marketing campaign, Patterson said. New ads feature defense personnel talking about their relationships with colleagues and important moments in their careers.
Patterson said defense market research showed young people were “actually quite idealistic or altruistic.”
“They are very interested in helping others and, in fact, in being of service.
“Most people don’t put on a uniform just for the money. Obviously, money is a big part of… selecting a career, but I think people want to be part of something bigger than themselves.
“In the past we’ve kind of focused on the professional elements, so we’ve focused on the trades…and with this campaign we’re really trying to create that connection between our young New Zealanders and who we are. as an organization.”
The campaign would likely last about five years and was funded from the existing recruiting budget, which a Defense Force spokesperson said was between $4 million and $4.8 million a year.
Patterson said the navy, air force and army are each reviewing the standards required for new recruits.
“Our job as a defense force and the kind of roles we have to take on means that we send people overseas, we sometimes send people into difficult and complex situations, so the bottom line is that the people who enter the NZDF must be able to operate in these environments.
A Defense Force spokesman said personnel attrition was “spread across the ranks”, including mid-level and senior positions. However, senior positions could not be recruited from outside, and it would take time to “train” more senior staff from junior ranks.
The government’s $90 million wage increase, spread over four years, had now been allocated and “modest” wage increases could be expected, retroactive to July 1.
The wage increases would occur under the government’s “wage restraint guidelines,” or wage freeze, which restricted wage increases on public sector salaries above $100,000.