In military recruiting circles, success is closely tied to the adage: “First to contact, first to contract.”
Unfortunately, it is hard to be the first recruiter to talk to a service candidate when office-strapped and desk-bound, which is why the Marine Corps Recruiting Command (MCRC) is now in the process of engineering its new wide area network (WAN) to maximize mobility and flexibility for its more than 3,600 recruiters.
“Although we are in a unique business, we really are a sales force, out there chasing leads and making contacts,” says Robert Brown, assistant chief of staff, G-6, MCRC. “Recruiting is hard work and we cannot make the job itself easier for our recruiters. The one thing we can do is to give them more time – more time to spend identifying and talking to prospects and less time driving to and from the office.”
Automation of any sort is a relatively new concept for MCRC. As recently as four years ago, the organization had absolutely no network connectivity across its 1,500 offices. Recruiters took paper forms to a recruit’s home or job fair and used a pen to fill out the initial enlistment application but then had to go back to the office, enter all the information into a computer, print out the forms, and fax them to the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Command (USMEPCOM) to get the process rolling. The paperwork only continued from there. “You can just imagine what our phone and fax costs used to be,” Brown states.
The new WAN, known internally as the Recruiting Services Enterprise Network, features encrypted virtual private network (VPN) tunnels and WAN optimization technologies. It was completed last year – just in time to take advantage of the exploding popularity and capabilities of mobile devices, Brown says.
“We actually had talked with leaders of industry organizations with very mobile environments and modeled our network against their examples. As a result, we have been able to leverage emerging mobile technologies without making further capital investment into our network,” Brown says.
The one relatively small, but critical, extra outlay that Brown chose to make was to install Internet Protocol (IP) acceleration software on all of its government-issued laptops and tablet PCs. “What we did not want to do was invest a lot of money and throw up some infrastructure and have the recruiters come back and say, ‘It’s too slow when I’m not in the office, I can’t get to the network, I can’t get my shared files, I can’t get my email, and so I’m not going to work from home,” he stated.
The IP software accelerators, which work in tandem with WAN optimization hardware, enhance transmission speeds by sending only data that has changed or is new and allow recruiters working remotely to have the same network experience that they have in a recruiting office. Moreover, the solution enabled MCRC to reduce its network build-out costs by about one-third because the organization did not need to purchase additional bandwidth.
“Without this piece, I think our efforts to improve mobility would have failed,” Brown admits.
Instead, MCRC has, for all intents and purposes, achieved a 100 percent telework adoption rate. Recruiters are able – and willing – to work from home whenever it suits their schedule and needs.
“We strive to provide that kind of flexibility as much as possible,” says Brown, noting that teleworkers access the network from home via their home networks and a VPN connection. “Now, their boss can send leads electronically and the recruiter can pick them up at home first thing in the morning and start prospecting immediately, rather than having to come into the office to do routine work. Even if that saves just five minutes, that’s five minutes the staff can now spend on more substantive tasks.”
Of course, a truly successful recruiter needs to be out of the office, beating the street and spending time at high schools, colleges, sporting events, job fairs, and other places where young people congregate. Recruiters currently can fill out applications and other forms on their laptops and tablets while face-to-face with a prospect and transmit that data over a secure wired connection when they return to their home office or a recruiting branch office. They also have the ability to show prospects videos on demand that illustrate the tasks involved in and training required for various career specialties.
The mobility effort continues to evolve and work through some challenges. Brown notes that security concerns at the higher headquarters level remain a hurdle to the goal of enabling recruiters to access the network using Wi-Fi and cellular connections, and they are still working on ensuring effective mobile device management of cell and smart phones. As a result, recruiters cannot yet wirelessly access their MCRC network with their laptops and tablets and they can only use their mobile phones for certain tasks, like accessing social network sites or sending digital pictures indirectly to the network using an approved third-party email account.
“We are working on overcoming those hurdles, and we are very close to doing so,” Brown says. “When we do, it will make life even easier for our recruiters. They will really be able to access network resources whenever and wherever they need to using whatever device they choose.”
Eventually, the hope is to enable all recruiting efforts to be performed virtually, from electronic prospect initiation and application processing to capturing electronic signatures on required forms and fingerprinting.