MIGHTY 25: Matthew Weiss wrote a book to recruit Gen Z
As military recruitment numbers continue to hit all-time lows for the newest generation of eligible troops, Marine Corps officer Second Lt. Matthew Weiss is giving leadership the answers to solving it.
The New Jersey native was just a young child when America was attacked on 9/11 and always had a lingering desire to serve. “I felt like the country had given so much and I wanted to do something in return,” he explained.
Despite all intentions of going in after college, Weiss put off signing up to pursue an MBA and then landed a dream job in defense technology. “I finally got to a point though where I realized if I was going to do it I needed to pull the trigger. Doing it was the best decision I’ve ever made,” he said.
In 2022, he was proud to earn the title of Marine and put on the uniform – one his grandfather also wore during World War II. The signal intelligence officer was inspired by him, Weiss added.
One day, the news was on the television and an older military leader was discussing the dismal recruitment numbers and the way leadership was poised to tackle the issue. “I have full respect for these unbelievable heroes but they are in their 50s or 60s discussing how to recruit Generation Z without any true understanding of how to do it,” he explained. “I felt that there was a missing gap or gap in the information arena where you needed actually someone from Generation Z like myself, a young person to speak about our generational ideas, our generational struggle, just our generational psyche, and thoughts to actually sort of give true to that some of these recruiting trends and how we can fix them.”
Writing We Don’t Want You Uncle Sam: Examining the Military Recruitment Crisis with Generation Z was his answer. The book breaks down the various reasons the newest generation has no desire to serve. From working conditions to generational expectations and sociocultural influences. Getting it on paper while balancing his duties as a Marine was a challenge.
“I've always loved writing itself. But sitting and locking yourself in your room from 1600 on Friday to 0800 on Monday is a different type of dedication,” he laughed. “A lot of the time was truly spent on researching and crafting the narrative. It was honestly a fascinating process.”
The response since the book launched in July has been encouraging.
“Definitely a lot of sort of sleepless nights and a lot of outreach but in the best way, I've had everyone from the most junior enlisted ranks to the most senior to retire three star, four star general ranks reach out,” he shared. “The goal is to spread this message as far and wide as possible. I do truly look at this as a massive existential crisis for the armed forces. I don't claim to have all the answers, some of my suggestions are right, some of them are wrong but I like to say there's something in the book for everyone.”
Generation Z counts folks born between 1997 and 2012 and Weiss says part of the issue with reaching them is the lack of understanding on what impacts them. After 9/11, a wave of Generation X and Millennials would flock to service in the wake of the attacks. Generation Z however, weathered different storms. A financial crisis, divisive elections and a pandemic.
“In light of how our generation ticks, there’s a lot of questioning how military service would impact us. We’re looking at it as if to question how it would be a benefit or investment into ourselves or the world,” Weiss explained.
The other thing he believes recruiters need to tap into is the competitiveness of Generation Z.
“Social media was and is such a big part of our lives. We were ranked and scored on every post, every picture, video every comment we've had from day one. So, we've actually understood rankings and competition,” he said.
And the military is competitive. From PT testing to advancing in rank, the opportunity to compete against peers is endless. It’s a factor he believes will be enticing to this generation.
“Wouldn't it be amazing if one day we had a recruiting overflow hit with too many people wanting to join like they did back in various times in history where they have to turn people away to only pick the best candidates,” Weiss shared. “That's what we're trying to get to. But it's incumbent on all of us to discuss these things, literally every single one of our strengths in every aspect, every job field, every support aspect, whatever it is because it's super, super important. That's really the call to action.”
You can learn more about this Marine and read his new book by clicking here.