Cover: Army Enlistment Options Optimizer

Army Enlistment Options Optimizer

Research Approach, Findings, and Implications

Published Sep 27, 2023

by James Hosek, Bruce R. Orvis

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Research Questions

  1. What are potential Army recruits' preferences for enlistment options offered in menus and composed of stand-alone bonuses and non-bonus incentives paired with smaller supplemental bonuses?
  2. What was the association between the chosen menu option and the stated probability of joining the Army in the next few years?
  3. Would an Enlistment Options Optimizer–type approach offering menus of enlistment options likely be more or less costly than today's approach?

The authors developed an Army Enlistment Options Optimizer approach that creates bundles of bonus and non-bonus enlistment incentives, often paired with smaller, supplemental bonuses. If implemented, potential recruits would choose the bundle they most value from those available according to job type, term length, recruit characteristics, and recruiting environment. This gives recruits greater agency in choosing their enlistment options, potentially increasing satisfaction and enlistments. At the same time, the recruit cohorts would have the characteristics desired by the Army and the Army would benefit from cost savings resulting from reduced bonus expenditures.

Through two surveys of young adults ages 18–27, the authors found that non-bonus incentives were as attractive as bonuses of $10,000–$15,000. Options that included non-bonus incentives and supplemental bonuses were chosen more often than larger stand-alone bonus options. Respondents choosing those options rated their likelihood of joining the Army in the next few years to be as high as or higher than respondents choosing stand-alone bonuses. The results also indicate that the student loan repayment option is very popular among today's young adults. It could be used to help penetrate the college market and could save recruiting resources when used in a controlled fashion as an element of the option menus. The results suggest that providing information in the recruiting marketing process on the many jobs that the Army offers and the pay and benefits of serving could increase consideration of joining the Army.

Key Findings

The authors identified the following major findings

  • Non-bonus incentives were as attractive as bonuses of $10,000–$15,000. Options that included non-bonus incentives and supplemental bonuses were chosen more often than larger stand-alone bonus options.
  • Respondents choosing non-bonus options with supplemental bonuses had stated enlistment probabilities of joining the Army as high as, or higher than, respondents choosing stand-alone bonus options.
  • Results suggest that offering an Enlistment Options Optimizer–type menu of options could provide greater recruit satisfaction and yield cost savings.

The authors identified the following policy implications of the findings

  • Providing information in the recruiting marketing process on the many jobs that the Army offers and the pay and benefits of serving could increase consideration of joining the Army.
  • Using menus of enlistment options tied to applicants' job choice, enlistment term, education and aptitude levels, and the Army's accession goals could attract more and higher-quality recruits by increasing their satisfaction with their enlistment package while decreasing recruiting costs.
  • Student loan repayment was an attractive option to the young adults who were surveyed, but many recruits do not have existing loan debt. The Army should determine ways to market this option to increase enlistment consideration in the college market.
  • Recruiting cost savings under a menu approach depend on administrative costs, bonus costs, and costs of loan repayment options. The Army should track these costs and gains if a menu approach is adopted. This could be done initially through a pilot test.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program within the RAND Arroyo Center.

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