NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — As the nation fights its way out of a global pandemic, many industries are still finding it hard to hire. The same can be said for the U.S. Air Force.
The Air Force is facing its lowest recruitment numbers since 1999.
The military branch officials said this shift happened around March 2020 — the same time COVID-19 shut down many businesses.
It also closed down many schools, making it hard for Air Force recruiters to reach out to many teens.
"It's definitely vital to national security, that we properly address the shortage that we have, and unfortunately, you know, like you said, every branch is experiencing it. But in the Air Force, our job is to recruit and retain the most highly qualified people. We are at a critical shortage," said Lt. Colonel Bryan Ewing.
The numbers have been low for quite a few years.
"The shift happened around March of 2020. And obviously, you know, we know COVID — that was a big impact. And now we're seeing, you know, the labor shortage with so many," said Ewing. "It isn’t that people are leaving. It's just a matter of getting people to see what we have to offer. And unfortunately, our recruiters suffered the most when schools locked down; they couldn't get in schools. And so it was a challenge for them to get to the young people just to give them the information we need them to have."
Ewing is hoping incentives like travel opportunities and even sign-on bonuses can help.
They have bonuses from $3,000 for mechanical and other types of jobs all the way up to $50,000.
"If you can imagine: someone can sign a dotted line, get accepted, and they can get $50,000 for joining us, or even given $8,000," he said.
The military is also leaning on Hollywood for a boost.
People might have noticed the Air Force commercial as you go to watch "Top Gun Maverick."
The Air Force has commercial rights to the popular film.
Despite the movie being about Navy fighter pilots, Ewing believes it can help recruitment.
"The Top Gun movie — we're thinking it's going do great for all the services because guess what, I remember being a teenager when Top Gun the original one came out. I remember leaving the theater thinking, 'I want to be part of something bigger than myself. I want to be part of that thing they're doing over there. Why are they so happy? Why are they such a tight-knit team? And that's what the military gives you,'" Ewing said.
The Air Force offers more than 130 different jobs and the cut-off age to join is 39-years-old.