IDF fights daily battle to hold on to career soldiers

New financial prizes awarded to low-paid soldiers and prestigious courses for hi-tech personnel are tools IDF is using to fight back.

An IDF soldier from the Golani Brigade trains in northern Israel (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)
An IDF soldier from the Golani Brigade trains in northern Israel
Away from the battlefield the IDF wages an altogether different kind of campaign to prevent career soldiers and officers from quitting.
Low-ranking career soldiers often find being on call constantly for the first seven years of service almost more than they can endure. Making matters worse, until recently that duty earned them less than minimum wage.
Mid-ranking officers present a different challenge to longterm retention. The expertise the develop from advanced technology training provided by the military turns those officers into valuable recruitment targets for private enterprise.
A senior IDF officer familiar with the importance of retaining talented officers, spoke with The Jerusalem Post but asked not to be identified. The source said the army has taken steps to improve conditions for junior career soldiers and prevent brain drain, particularly among hi-tech programmers and engineers.
But with 4,000 permanent personnel leaving the military as part of efficiency reforms in the last three years, service members began to see their long-term career choice seem suddenly unstable.
Under the IDF’s multi-year Gideon Plan, one third of career personnel will remain until achieving the rank of lieutenant- colonel and retire after full service. A second third will leave halfway through service at the rank of major. The final third will leave after seven years of service.
“One out of 11 will complete their whole service,” the source said. “We want the best to reach the pension retirement stage.”
The IDF is also interested in improving conditions for those who will not reach the last stage of service. To that end, commanders can now award grants of NIS 5,000 to NIS 8,000 to outstanding career personnel.
Hundreds of grants may be awarded under the program, which began in March but is only now being implemented.
The grants were designed to improve conditions of junior service members who struggle to make ends meet. A recent IDF pay raise of 10 percent only brought salary levels up to minimum wage.
“At the age of 26 or 27, they will want to start a family, but salaries are low. We came along and said, let’s provide incentives, as much as we can,” the source said.
The grants are given for excellence and can be used for studies or personal expenses. “For the first time, commanders can provide a financial incentive to subordinates. A brigade commander can decide to award a subordinate for holding an excellent exercise,” the source said. “This creates a commitment, a willingness to be on call at any time,” the source said.
IDF commanders were initially confused by the program and expressed uncertainty about how to use it. Now, however, the financial prizes are making a difference to morale.
“This is a pilot. It looks like it’s successful, but it is still incomplete.
Next year, we could enlarge it,” the source said.
Meanwhile, technological officers aged 30 and up face the siren call of hi-tech companies, against whose incentives the IDF has “no chance” of matching.
On the other hand, the IDF provides personal challenges and an opportunity to serve one’s country, something no corporation can match.
“We have managed to stem the brain drain,” the source said. “We send outstanding officers to study for PhD and take cyber courses in leading institutions.”
“We bring the campus to them and they learn together.
Suddenly, they don’t want to rush to leave,” the source said.
“People are staying.”