Scanty Troops

Military Ramps Up Recruiting

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Demographic changes and the end of conscription have sent the German military scrambling to find personnel.

  • Facts


    • Berlin put an end to conscription in 2011.
    • Meanwhile the number of eligible young people is rapidly shrinking.
    • Given Germany’s difficult military history, many young people also don’t necessarily view the Bundeswehr as an appealing employer.
  • Audio


  • Pdf
German Defence Minister von der Leyen talks aboard a German Air Force plane on the way from Jordan to Iraq
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen speaks with Bundeswehr leaders on a transport plane this September. Photo: Reuters

With a new YouTube reality show about boot camp and fresh marketing campaign, the German military is trying to increase its visibility and attract urgently needed new recruits. The effort is part of Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen’s push to paint the Bundeswehr as one of the “best employers in Germany,” as her ministry described it in a new human resources strategy seen by Handelsblatt.

By 2025, she plans to implement improved human resources management “that members of the Bundeswehr value” and also opens desirable career paths for them. The defense ministry hopes these efforts will make becoming a soldier a more appealing vocation because troop numbers have been dropping swiftly in recent years.

“In June 2016 we had the smallest Bundeswehr of all time,” parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces Hans-Peter Bartels told Handelsblatt. With 166,000 career and enlisted soldiers, it was even smaller than the 170,000 originally intended, he said.

Part of the problem is that the military hasn’t managed to fill the gaps presented after compulsory military service was scrapped five years ago. “Recruiters are still acting as though we are able to pick and choose from a huge pool of young draftees,” Mr. Bartels said.

Now the Bundeswehr is in competition with other employers, meanwhile the number of young people is shrinking. Currently the number of 18-year-olds in the country is at 749,000, but this will drop by 144,000 within less than 15 years.

For that reason, Ms. von der Leyen also wants to recruit more women, those over 30 and even citizens of other European Union countries. School drop-outs will also get a second chance with the Bundeswehr, which will provide a program to help them finish their secondary education simultaneously with their military training.


There are also plans to require commitments of up to 25 years from soldiers, in addition to creating appealing conditions for those who might want to join Bundeswehr after they finish their university studies. The differences between career soldiers, reserve soldiers and civilian employees will also be eased, while those leaving service will get help returning to civilian life.

“All recruits should leave the Bundeswehr more qualified than when they entered,” the strategy paper says.

But Mr. Bartels is somewhat skeptical that recruitment expansion will be a success. “The Bundeswehr must make sure that the troops as a whole don’t get too old,” he said. Still, at the moment there may be no alternative method to gaining enough recruits, he added.

Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, has already approved an additional 7,000 positions for career and enlisted soldiers by 2023. The recruitment numbers have become a bit higher since the “Attractiveness Agenda” was decided upon in May. The percentage of women among the voluntary conscripts has also increased, from 17 to 18 percent.

“The Bundeswehr should put more emphasis on recruiting women,” Mr. Bartels said. While the navy has managed to attract more women, other parts of the military need to improve, he added.

Still, overall the Bundeswehr has improved its image, Mr. Bartels said, citing a poll in which 59 percent described the Bundeswehr as an attractive employer, compared to 39 percent in 2013.

In the future, the military plans to pay more attention to soldiers’ needs, providing more planning and support for both the recruits and their dependents during relocations, for example. Careers are also to become more specialized, changing the standard military career paths to accommodate IT or medical services.

“The teams in the cyber field are smaller than in the army. Leading large numbers of soldiers isn’t the most important qualification there,” a ministry spokesperson said. “Physical requirements also tend to play a lesser role in these assignments.”

The Bundeswehr is recruiting IT specialists on a massive scale at the moment. With 21,000 IT positions, it is already one of the country’s largest digital employers. But there are still 800 open IT positions for soldiers, plus 500 IT administrator positions. The army is also seeking emergency paramedics and nurses.  Civilian personnel are also dwindling. By 2030, half of them will have retired.

But until the related laws are actually changed at the beginning of 2017, the defense ministry’s plans can’t be implemented. As the plans unfold, the first priority must be earning acceptance for the new strategy among the troops, and then making sure they are enticed to stay, Mr. Bartels said. “Too many volunteers quit because they do not feel challenged enough,” he said, saying that some 40 percent break off their careers as officers.


Donata Riedel covers economic policy for Handelsblatt. To contact the author:

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!