Covid-19. In many ways, this dreaded virus was the catalyst that spurred on frequent waves of innovation throughout the country as people sought to overcome the challenges of social distancing and restricted travel. Coast Guard Recruiter School, a Force Readiness Command (FORCECOM) program located at Training Center Cape May, was at the front of this innovation and faced the early impacts from restriction of movement and space availability, to the emergence of online instruction within the service.
Recruiter school is a three-week facilitated learning course that blends both instructor-led curriculum and independent learning. Before Covid-19 impacted the world, Senior Chief Petty Officer Frederick Clay and Petty Officer 1st Class Knute Klotz, the Recruiter School instructors, taught the course completely in-person. Their training covered the fundamentals of recruiting including sales communication, applicant processing, and preparation.
As the outbreak began to unfold, Recruiter School personnel started to feel the logistics pressure as the Coast Guard and the training center implemented travel restrictions and restriction of movement (ROM) requirements. Specifically, the training center limited their on-base lodging availability to account for quarantine. However, the need to train recruiters remained critical in order to maintain the flow of incoming personnel for recruit training and eventually into the fleet to perform Coast Guard missions.
Before the pandemic, none of the modules in recruiter school were virtual. They simply did not have the supporting technology available. The instructors took the initiative to map over, or convert, portions of the course that were previously taught in-person to digital training, including discussion boards, video lessons, and Commercial Virtual Remote (CVR) Teams applications.
CVR Teams, a Department of Defense (DoD) commercial software, was selected as the medium to deliver and organize the course. The digital upgrades allowed the instructors to conduct live sessions that usually ran in two-hour blocks.
There have been many benefits to using the new technology. Being able to log in from mobile devices allowed students to have an additional device to use during sessions. Instructors were able to maintain contact and communication with students through the virtual platform as well. In addition, students such as Auxiliarists who did not have access to CVR were still able to participate through the software.
There were some learning curves for instructors employing the new tools. There was no formal training on how to deliver online instruction. The instructors figured it out as they moved forward. Most Coast Guard courses were still resident courses.
According to Clay, it took a few classes to get a feel for the CVR Teams functionality, which steadily improved as features, such as the breakout rooms, were added. He said he is hopeful that additional features and add-ons will be available.
The switch to digital online learning has had a tremendous impact. The switch allowed recruiters to become more adaptive to using technology and recruiting in a virtual environment. This is a skill that has become more and more critical as people increase their presence and availability in the digital world. Recruiters must meet people where they to be successful.
Additionally, a major benefit is that students are able to work at their own pace with much of the reading material and digital training. In turn, the instructors were able to focus more time highlighting and reviewing critically important concepts. Before COVID, students were in a lecture-based classroom for eight hours a day on average. Now, students are able to complete the readings and much of the supporting coursework on their own time, freeing up class time for more meaningful training, and more interactive scenarios.
While the virtual training has allowed for certain concepts to be expanded, there are still specific practical exercises that are best completed in a resident course. Mock interviews, presentations, and the experience of re-familiarization with bootcamp provided at Training Center Cape May cannot be duplicated virtually at present. These tactile experiences allow recruiters to better explain and prepare applicants for service.
Overall, the initiatives were a success and 134 new recruiters graduated from the virtual class between 2020 and 2021.
Members who are in receipt of orders to be recruiters or who are working to support the Coast Guard recruiting mission are eligible to attend the school.