Uncle Sam Wants You And So Does Pepsi

The U.S. Army teams up with corporations to attract recruits

When unemployment hovers around 4% as it has for the past 10 months, every employer in the U.S. feels the pinch. But when you ask a worker to commit as much as six years of his life to a rigorous, highly regulated regime for a monthly paycheck of about $1,000, then you better offer a few benefits to stand a chance of enticing that worker.

Just ask the U.S. Army. For the past three years, it has failed to meet its annual recruitment quota--even with offers of subsidized higher education and extensive job training. Now, the brass is going one step further--guaranteeing a job after a recruit's enlistment. The two-month-old program is called Partnership for Youth Success, and it involves simultaneously signing up recruits for a two-to-six-year stint in the Army and for skilled employment, with average salaries of around $25,000-$30,000 and benefits, at a partner corporation after that soldier's tour of duty is over.

Not surprisingly, the offer boosts the Army's appeal, and for 2000 the Army now expects to meet its goal of 120,000 new soldiers. The program is proving to be attractive to twentysomethings. Traditionally, the Army has recruited most heavily with high school graduates, ignoring the older crowd. Switching its focus has helped boost recruitment efforts by 17% in the first seven months of this year.

MENTOR ONBOARD. Here's how the new program works: Recruits will be trained for soldiering--and their eventual job--in one of nearly 100 different fields, ranging from information technology to aircraft repair. The corporate partner will monitor the soldier's progress, and some will even provide a mentor.

So far, wholesale distributor Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. and defense contractor General Dynamics Corp. have both signed on as partner companies. But more than 130 other companies--such as the Big Three auto makers, Caterpillar, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and Black & Decker--are also eager to join the list, says Maj. Gen. Evan R. Gaddis.

Pepsi is making the largest commitment--about 1,000 jobs over the next three years, says Kevin Cox, senior vice-president for human resources. The company will offer starting salaries of $25,000 to $40,000 in product merchandising, operations, and IT. And because the recruits arrive trained, Cox says they'll be able to advance much more easily.

Why make such an offer? "There aren't many sources that can provide the volume, the quality, the level of maturity, and disciplined worker that the Army can," he says. At General Dynamics the deal is also sweet: Recruits are being promised more than $20 an hour, plus benefits.

Plus, unlike the Army, there's an easy out: Soldiers who sign up with any company aren't obligated to stay on if they don't like it. And of course, no crew cut.