(This was originally written by Lt Col Ron Padavan, CAP, and published on CadetStuff.org)
Recruiting is one of the most important things we can do in CAP. Without it, all our other missions fall by the wayside for lack of support. Try and run an actual search mission with only 5 people. Try and run a good cadet program with only 3 cadets and 2 seniors. Yes, we need to recruit new members to our organization, however, once we have them, do we do all we can to keep them?
What motivates a CAP cadet into staying with the organization? There are as many reasons as people who read this article. From personal pride to the look of the uniform, from wanting to help others to learning to fly and many more in between. As good CAP leaders we need to try and understand those reasons and work toward filling every members need.
A number of years ago the Air Force was faced with the problem of pilot retention. Now they could not give them more money to stay in or more time off or any of the traditional civilian ideas, so they came up with one of their own. They gave all rated officers on flight status a leather jacket. It cost about 100 dollars each, but the retention rate for pilots went up. Why? It filled some need for them to be recognized. Now this jacket did not solve all the pilot retention problems, but it did work for awhile and the numbers stabilized. Then the Air Force was faced with a retention problem with it’s enlisted members. It developed a program for retention, one used to this day. The basis for this program was personalizing the Air Force to it’s members, not just giving them a jacket.
All to often we forget that in an organization, there are individual people. Each person has their own goals, ideas, wants and desires. We sometimes think of our squadron as one unit, each person unidentifiable in themselves. What we really have is an organization of people who have volunteered to work together as a group and unless we see these people for what they are, individuals, we will ultimately lose them.
So what do we do with them to make them want to stay in CAP? Give them leather flight jackets? Pay them more? Promote them faster? Yes, that would all work, but it can’t happen. Here are some ideas that worked for Army and Air Guard units. This is not an all inclusive list, I hope that some of these ideas will stimulate ideas of your own.
- Every chance you get, recognize your people. Not just with awards, but at birthdays and graduations. Purchase a box of birthday cards and give them out at the meeting closest to the persons birthday. Announce a birthday at formation or in your newsletter.
- Make them feel needed. Give them a job, commensurate with their experience, at the squadron. Maybe collecting the sign in sheets or greeting new people at the door. A thank you note sent to them a month before they are due to renew is a nice touch.
- Don’t forget the spouse or parents of the seniors or cadets. A thank you note to them for allowing their spouse or child the time away from family to participate is always a nice touch. It also gives you a chance to communicate to a parent who you may not see all year.
- A personal interview with each and every person in the squadron. The military does this during the month of their birth every year. What are your plans? You know we need you in the squadron? Is there anything we can do to make you stay? Do you have any ideas for activities you would like to see? These are just a few of the questions you could ask.
- Keep your people active. Nothing is worse for retention, other then yelling at them, then having them come to a meeting and have nothing to do. Boredom is not a good retention tool.
- Don’t yell. I don’t think I can stress this enough. Even in the “real” military, the concept of yelling at the troops is frowned on. Yell at someone and you are real close to losing them. I don’t mean to give up on discipline, but yelling is not discipline, it is frustration on your part being taken out on someone else.
- Praise often. Everyone does something right. When they do, make an effort to tell them they did good.
- Care about your people. Often you can tell by the look on a person’s face that there is something wrong. If you see this, take them aside and ask about it. Even if they do not wish to talk right then, they will know that you noticed and cared enough to ask. If one of your people is having trouble at school, maybe you can find someone who can help. Treat your people like your family.
- Activities, activities, activities. Goes along with keeping them active. Give them meaningful activities and lots of the. Don’t forget to have fun along the way. If you live in an urban area organize a dance or other social event and invite other squadrons. If you are a small squadron, ask other squadrons to join you on your activity. The more the merrier.
When you look at retention, you realize it takes less time to retain someone then it does to train a new person. You cannot grow your squadron if you lose two cadets for every one you bring in. CAP is not for everyone, and losses are inevitable, but with a little bit of work on your part, you can keep more then you lose, and if my math is correct, that leads to a bigger and better unit.