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As a caution, large, abrupt increases in IT manpower requirements will decrease this likelihood. Yet it is worth noting that the number and percentage of recruiting slots designated as IT in our study have declined over the past 20 years. The enormous increases in the productivity of information technology may have enabled the military to do more with fewer people, and further, some IT tasks may have been outsourced. Finally, because success in IT recruiting has depended on the value of military IT training in civilian jobs, a softening of the civilian demand for IT workers can only reduce that value and increase the difficulty of recruiting into IT. However, enlistment and reenlistment incentives such as bonuses can help to compensate for such a loss in value.
Acknowledgments We thank David Gompert, who emphasized the importance of information technology personnel in future national security planning and aided us in securing the initial funding for this project. Our project monitors, Judy Fernandez, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), and Joyce France, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Command, Control, Communications, and Information), helped in all stages of the project, especially at the beginning as the project’s scope and direction were set. Susan Everingham, director of the Center for Forces and Resource Policy within the National Security Research Division at RAND, participated in the initial phase of work and provided valuable managerial guidance and research insight over the remainder of the project. We received information and assistance from many Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force officers and enlisted personnel who took part in field interviews and met with us in the Pentagon; although we do not list them individually, we deeply appreciate their contribution. Judy Fernandez, Chad Shirley of RAND, and Professor of Economics Stephan Mehay at the U.S.
Naval Postgraduate School reviewed the report overall, and Jennie Wenger of the Center for Naval Analyses reviewed the theoretical model and simulations. We sincerely thank them for their thorough, constructive reviews, and we have done our best to respond to them. Finally, we thank Kristin Leuschner and Christina Pitcher for their efforts to lend clarity and concision to our writing.
Introduction and Overview Information technology (IT) permeates current plans for the ongoing transformation of the military and past experiences in military evolution. In fact, the potent role of IT had already become apparent in World War II, with the emergence of radio communications on the battlefield, the advent of radar and sonar, the use of onboard electromechanical computers for targeting battleship guns, and the use of primitive computers in the decryption analysis at Bletchley Park. In the 1990s, the Army took major strides toward “digitizing” its forces; the Navy networked the logistics of its Pacific fleet with commercially available software; and the Air Force made increasing use of satellite imaging, location, and communications technology. Most recently, IT played a major role in supporting joint service operations in Iraq.
Research in areas such as tank crew performance (Scribner et al., 1986), multichannel radio operation (Winkler and Polich, 1990; Fernandez, 1992), Patriot missile crew performance (Orvis, Childress, and Polich, 1992), ship readiness (Junor and Oi, 1996), and maintenance (Gotz and Stanton, 1986) has shown that the quality and experience of personnel make a large difference in how effectively weapons systems are operated and maintained and, therefore, in military capability and readiness. It seems likely that this observation can be extended to IT occupations and personnel. That is, the effectiveness of military systems that depend on IT will in turn depend on the quality and experience of personnel in IT, and conversely, reductions in quality and experience of IT personnel, or outright shortfalls in the supply of IT personnel, can jeopardize military capability and readiness.
Given the growing role of IT and the dependence of IT system performance on IT personnel, the National Defense Research Institute (NDRI) Advisory Board asked the RAND Corporation to assess whether the supply of IT personnel would be adequate to meet emerging IT manpower requirements. This request suggested structuring a study that would review the long-term IT manpower requirements, analyze the supply of IT personnel, and determine whether there was likely to be a gap between supply and requirements. Although we began by looking into long-term requirements, we learned that while the services have long-term visions of force structures, they do not detail long-term manpower requirements.
However, we also learned (as discussed in Chapter Three) that the services have reasonably specific knowledge of system changes to be implemented in the near term. These changes affect only a part of the force at any time and in this sense have an evolutionary, not discontinuous, affect on manpower requirements. Furthermore, the cycle of near-term changes has generally been long enough to allow the development of training and the design of career tracks to adapt to the emerging manpower requirements. These findings led us to orient the research around IT personnel supply. We wanted to gain firsthand knowledge of how the services and other organizations were managing IT occupations, determine whether the supAttracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel ply of IT personnel had lapsed during the late-1990s boom, and identify factors affecting IT recruiting and retention.
Also, as we mapped out the scope of our inquiry, we decided to focus on the supply of enlisted personnel. We undertook a review of the literature, conducted fieldwork, and reviewed data on IT personnel with regard to quality, term length, attrition, and reenlistment.
In addition, we studied civilian wages in IT and non-IT occupations and compared those wages to military pay. Finally, we developed a theoretical model of the supply and retention of IT personnel to further support our argument and to provide additional insight into the issue at hand. Similar research could be done on officers and Department of Defense (DoD) civilians, but it was beyond the scope of the present work.
Overview of Findings
The Literature Emphasizes the Impact of IT on the Economy and the Workforce but Is Ambiguous on the Question of a Potential Shortage of IT Workers Academic research, the popular press, and congressional testimony all provided insights into the nature and development of IT within the private and public sectors (Chapter Two).
Having played a more modest role in the 1980s, IT emerged as a major contributor to economic expansion in the 1990s. Also, IT may have contributed to the increase in wage variance among workers by acting as a substitute for menial-task workers, keeping their wages down, and a complement for workers in high-cognition tasks, pushing their wages up. IT transformed the ways goods and services were produced and distributed, thereby destroying some jobs and creating others.
The popular press touted private-sector IT positions for their access to the newest hardware and software, emphasis on continuing training, flexible work schedules, and staunch employer support for building one’s career. Despite this rosy image, we found no random, representative surveys of these “ideal” practices, and it is unclear how prevalent they were. The popular press also mentioned a negative facet of private-sector practice—flexible work schedules were often accompanied by long hours of work.
Of particular interest to this research, the literature records conflicting views on the potential for a massive national shortage in IT workers. On the one hand, there were widespread perceptions in the 1990s that such a shortage was imminent because of the projected growth in demand for IT workers and the low numbers of IT graduates being produced by colleges and universities. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasted an increase of over one million IT jobs from 1994 to 2005. On the other hand, analysts argued that adjustments would mitigate the shortage and allow IT manning requirements to be met. For example, workers from non-IT backgrounds can be trained into IT, as has often been the case in the past. Also, organizations can increase pay and redesign jobs in IT to make them more attractive, and IT positions and requirements can be simplified and adapted so that they fit the skills of the extant workforce instead of creating a demand for “IT” workers.
Introduction and Overview 3Interviews Shed Light on the Challenges Facing the Military in Recruiting, Training, and Developing the IT Workforce To extend the findings from our literature review to the armed services, we conducted fieldwork, in the form of interviews, on the management of IT occupations in the Army and the Air Force. These interviews, which are discussed in Chapter Three, shed light on the challenges facing the military services in their attempts to attract, train, and develop a sizable and highly skilled IT workforce—as well as the procedures and capabilities in place to address these challenges.
From the viewpoint of the people we interviewed, retention was the foremost challenge. The loss of high-tech military personnel to industry caused problems throughout the force and had a negative effect on readiness and capability. For example, some positions went unfilled, and sometimes positions were filled by accelerating the promotion of members who did not yet have the skills and experience needed to be good leaders and mentors to train junior personnel. Interviewees also feared that course instructors supplied by contractors would “poach” military members, particularly if reenlistment bonuses were low or absent.
The lack of financial incentives to obtain additional education and training was a related problem. Military members received no reward, e.g., no special pay, for learning a new skill or completing a course. Some interviewees cited this as a deterrent to entering IT and an obstacle to reenlistment. However, others said military training was valuable in civilian jobs and should be viewed as a form of deferred compensation. By the latter view, the incentive to remain in the military depends on the continued provision of valuable training.
Other problems relating to IT occupations included the lengthy delays in obtaining top-secret clearances, thus preventing members who had trained for intelligence positions from being assigned to them, and the high operational tempo and frequency of deployment found in certain intelligence specialties.
With respect to future manpower requirements, the Army and the Air Force have processes in place to anticipate future manning and training requirements. The processes are geared to the pace at which resource decisions are made, which in the case of new systems or hardware often means a cycle of planning and procurement four years or longer. It is our impression that the processes have been responsive to speedups in the planning/procurement cycle. However, although the interviews offered helpful information, a full assessment of the optimality and flexibility of the requirement determination process would need a separate analysis.