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Evidence from Field Interviews on the Management of Enlisted IT Occupations 31 ties for promotion and the range of possible future assignments. Our interviews suggested that educational incentives could be more effectively employed as a retention tool, particularly in the IT sector. In fact, a number of interviewees noted that although educational opportunities existed for soldiers, they were not used as explicit incentives for a soldier to stay in the military. For example, soldiers can draw MGIB and college funds even before they qualify (by completing three consecutive years of service), and they might be willing to accept longer service obligations in exchange for higher educational benefits. Our interlocutors argued that educational opportunities should be employed more explicitly as an incentive to stay in the military beyond the first term.
Many of the Army’s channels of education and training are controlled by PERSCOM: advanced individual training (AIT), the professional leadership development course, the BNCOC, the advanced noncommissioned officers course (ANCOC), and the sergeant major academy.
The unit pays for some types of training, including training in the global command and control system for joint and coalition forces, and other institutional and special skills training in the case of CMF 74. For these specifically identified skills, soldiers are selected for training based on their drive, capability, and the training needs of the unit.
Soldier management and training in a CMF is the responsibility of a professional development NCO and an assignment manager. The professional development NCO helps direct soldiers to training required for advancement. For instance, MOS 96B requires the Battle Staff Course for those who are E-6 and above. Personnel may be sent to training by the unit or sent en route to the unit by PERSCOM. One of the newest requirements was the All Source Analyst System training, which was needed by about 10 percent of 96B.
A large portion of IT training was outsourced and used commercial off-the-shelf educational materials, making the skills acquired applicable to a range of military assignments as well as private-sector opportunities. According to interviewees at Ft. Gordon, the training school for signals, frequently commercial vendors taught the fundamentals of operating systems, whether they were Microsoft, Sun Solaris, Unix, or other systems. Military trainers were using commercial curricula as well. Such training is beneficial because it allows soldiers to receive certification for the skills they learned, thus increasing the transferability of IT skills and making the IT position more attractive. Skill certification was being actively encouraged, with funding available from the unit and with programs allowing the soldier to certify but providing incentives for retention. One such program, certification for Cisco routers, took about eight weeks for a civilian to complete. The Army created a program giving the first two weeks of this training in AIT, the next three weeks in BNCOC, and the remainder in ANCOC. Staged training like this might be an effective tool to recruit and retain soldiers, but since the time span in a military career from AIT to ANCOC is about eight years, the incentive to take this training in the Army seems weak. This program aside, most of the training (75–95 percent) at Ft. Gordon was industry based. Although soldiers placed a high value on certification, they often did not receive it.
Interviewees also noted some negative aspects of commercial-based, outsourced training, particularly with regard to personnel retention. Interviewees were concerned about the use of private contractors to provide training for systems such as Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and PROPHET (a modified military automotive vehicle with equipment to detect signals and the direction of their origin) since they felt that these trainers exploited 32 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel their interaction with military personnel to identify promising employment candidates and to provide them with information about outside pay and opportunities.8 Additional training can also complicate the issue of retention, given that training often qualifies personnel for lucrative private-sector opportunities and that the Army cannot reward individuals quid pro quo (e.g., promotion in exchange for undergoing training.) Furthermore, there can be a significant and costly lag between when training occurs and when it can be applied. For example, a trained soldier often cannot be assigned to a new system because it is not yet available. We were told that a temporary increase in promotions could have counteracted these concerns, but more promotions would have required an increase in authorized billets at higher grades. The interviewees noted the value of having a current surplus of mid-level and senior NCOs to ensure sufficient future supply of senior NCOs. They suggested a 25 percent surplus as a buffer for manning legacy systems as well as new systems, because these come on line sporadically.
Our interviews suggested that an increase in pay for IT and MI specialists who undergo additional training might make them more satisfied with their assignments and encourage them to stay in the military. However, interviewees reported that only indirect incentives existed to induce specialists to pursue such additional training, except in the case of language proficiency pay for certain MI specialties. For example, individuals who take additional courses may be perceived as having a high level of motivation, which is considered in promotion decisions. In some cases, courses or training are required for promotion and hence higher pay. Also, additional skills may expand the range of assignments for which a member is considered, which should increase the chance that the member will be satisfied with the assignment. Finally, interviewees at Ft. Gordon indicated that while special pay had been proposed for IT personnel in signal specialties, the Army made no provision for this in its proposed budget. Interviewees cited federal occupational code 334, which allows federal civilian employees to receive special pay, as an example for the military to follow. Such a policy, adapted to fit the needs of the military, might improve reenlistment.
Key Issues Overall, our interviews with Army personnel suggested that training and educational incentives, though underused, are essential tools in the management, recruitment, and retention of IT personnel. The interviews indicated that valuable IT training appears to be a significant factor in the choice to enlist and could be better orchestrated to maximize retention. However, our discussions also implied that retention remains a significant challenge because of the imperative of meeting manpower requirements and, for trained personnel, because of the attractiveness of outside opportunities.
Our interviews also demonstrated that the Army does indeed have a system in place to assess current and near-term manpower needs and to plan for appropriate IT personnel training and development. The increasing use of commercial IT products, training, and certification was cited as evidence of the Army’s attempt to more effectively develop and retain ____________
8 Interviewees expressed other objections to the use of contractors, although some of these topics are beyond the scope of this research. Some interviewees argued that civilian instructors do not compare favorably with military instructors who go into the field and return with firsthand knowledge to instruct students. Moreover, detractors of outsourcing argued that private-sector instructors could teach only doctrine, not employment. This argument has merit, but many instructors are former members of the military.
Evidence from Field Interviews on the Management of Enlisted IT Occupations 33 its IT personnel. Enlistment and reenlistment bonuses and reclassification were additional incentives suggested as mechanisms to attract and keep qualified personnel.
We draw three primary conclusions from our interviews. First, the requirements generation process appears to be generally effective and sufficiently flexible to identify and target the Army’s IT manpower needs. (Because the interviews were limited in scope and involved no original analysis, we cannot conclude one way or the other that the requirements generation process leads to a cost-effective determination of resource requirements, including manpower, or that the process handles the spectrum of future uncertainty in a rigorous fashion.) Second, IT units in the Army are able to meet their recruitment targets and to minimize attrition; however, they struggle somewhat in retaining their personnel. Finally, training and development must be figured into personnel management systems in the future, and their use must be tailored to the Army’s particular requirements and needs, as has been the practice.
Air Force Interviews
We learned that Air Force CMF managers for signals occupations (3C series) and intelligence occupations (1N series) face many of the same personnel management issues as Army CMF managers. We also learned that the Air Force has a different requirements generation process and is more severely affected by the long time it takes to obtain a top-secret clearance and by a strenuous operating tempo.
IT Manpower in the Future Force: Requirements Generation Process Although the actual requirements generation process is much the same in the Air Force as it is in the Army, each service has its own procedures to assess its training and accession needs.
As in the Army, the Air Force process for generating requirements focuses on identifying force structure or equipment changes as well as other factors that could alter the required skills or could require a change in the personnel structure. Signal CMF managers explained that education and training requirements were developed in concert with the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) and from information obtained from the field. The CMF manager typically assembles specific requirements in response to information obtained from the consumer communities. The CMF manager presents the requirements to AETC for evaluation. The main arena for this process is the U&TW. Here, participants consider the overall subject matter expertise required by the AFSC, its future manning requirements, and factors or changes that might affect the expertise and manpower that will be needed for an effective future force.
Changes in operating systems are vetted through the U&TW process. The Air Force Communications Agency typically provides input on decisions to upgrade or to change operating systems and on the determination of training needed to support such changes. Operating system changes require new licensing, new software, new training, and equipment upgrades. The step-by-step process used means that changes occur through a graduated response and at a slower pace than in the private sector. However, interviewees said it was not necessary or feasible for the Air Force to adopt changes at the same rate as the private sector.
34 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel In addition to its internal systems assessment, the Air Force seeks feedback from the communities employing the airmen trained through Air Force programs and from the airmen themselves. For example, the airmen are surveyed on whether their training was appropriate and adequate for their duties, and the supervisors are required to fill out the Graduate Assessment Survey, which reports on the performance and quality of the airmen and, indirectly, on the effectiveness of the training programs.
In contrast to the quarterly CMF review in the Army, the Air Force U&TW occurs “as needed.” This is typically a two-year time cycle in signals occupations. But often more than two years will pass before a U&TW is convened, depending on the magnitude of the changes discussed at the preceding U&TW and the timelines for implementing programs.
Clearly, in an IT-intensive field such as signals, systems and technologies can undergo significant change and obsolescence within two years. Given the sheer magnitude of the tasks faced by the U&TW, some difficulty in keeping up with technology is inevitable. However, two years may be too long between reviews in IT.