From June 1935 onward, men aged between 18 and 25 had to serve six months before their military service. During World War II compulsory service also included young women and the RAD developed to an auxiliary formation which provided support for the Wehrmacht armed forces.
In the course of the Great Depression, the German government of the Weimar Republic under Chancellor Heinrich Brüning by emergency decree had established the Freiwilliger Arbeitsdienst ('Voluntary Labour Service', FAD) on 5 June 1931, two years before the Nazi Party (NSDAP) ascended to national power. The state sponsored employment organisation provided services to civic and land improvement projects, from 16 July 1932 it was headed by Friedrich Syrup in the official rank of a Reichskommissar. The idea of a national compulsory service was quite popular, especially in right-wing circles, but it had little effect on the economic situation.
The concept was adopted by Adolf Hitler, who upon the Nazi seizure of power in 1933 appointed Konstantin Hierl state secretary in the Reich Ministry of Labour, responsible for FAD matters. Hierl was already a high-ranking member of the NSDAP and head of the party's labour organisation, the Nationalsozialistischer Arbeitsdienst or NSAD. Hierl developed the concept of a state labour service organisation similar to the Reichswehr army, with a view to implementing a compulsory service. Meant as an evasion of the regulations set by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, voluntariness initially was maintained after protests by the Geneva World Disarmament Conference.
Hierl's rivalry with Labour Minister Franz Seldte led to the affiliation of his office as a FAD Reichskommissar with the Interior Ministry under his party fellow Wilhelm Frick. On 11 July 1934, the NSAD was renamed Reichsarbeitsdienst or RAD with Hierl as its director until the end of World War II. By law issued on 26 June 1935, the RAD was re-established as an amalgamation of the many prior labour organisations formed in Germany during the Weimar Republic, with Hierl appointed as Reich Labour Leader (Reichsarbeitsführer) according to the Führerprinzip. With massive financial support by the German government, RAD members were to provide service for mainly military and to a lesser extent civic and agricultural construction projects.
The RAD was divided into two major sections, one for men (Reichsarbeitsdienst Männer - RAD/M) and the voluntary, from 1939 compulsory, section for young women (Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend - RAD/wJ).