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Analysis of Data Indicates High Quality of IT Recruits, Lengthier Terms, and Lower Attrition The economic conditions in the late 1990s, the glowing description of IT employment conditions appearing in the popular press, the projections for a massive shortfall in IT workers in the future, and the weakening state of military recruiting and retention were all reasons to expect an acute supply problem in military IT. But the data on IT recruit quality, term length, and attrition told a different story (Chapter Four). From the mid-1990s through 2001, recruit quality was higher in IT than in non-IT occupations. Furthermore, although choice of contract length does not rest entirely with the recruit and is controlled partially by the services’ decisions about how to structure their recruiting quotas, IT recruits were more likely than non-IT recruits to have a longer initial term (of five or six years) and to stay to complete their term. Since IT recruits were of higher quality, it was not surprising, based on past studies, to find higher term completion in IT than in non-IT. But even holding quality 4 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel constant, term completion was higher in IT than in non-IT. Also, the use of enlistment bonuses was little different in IT than in non-IT, although our data on bonuses were limited.
The reenlistment picture was mixed. Reenlistment was lower in IT than in non-IT in the Army and the Navy, roughly the same in the Air Force, and higher in IT than in non-IT in the Marine Corps. These differences probably trace to differences in the use of reenlistment bonuses and in the perceived value of a continued career in IT versus non-IT.
Wider use of bonuses, higher bonus amounts, and a high value of additional training and experience in IT would increase the retention rate in IT and perhaps make it higher than the rate in non-IT.
Our wage analysis (Chapter Five) found civilian wages to be considerably higher in IT than in non-IT, as we had expected. To compare military pay to civilian wages, we used regular military compensation (RMC), which is the sum of basic pay, housing and subsistence allowances, and the federal tax advantage deriving from the allowances not being taxed.
RMC on average accounts for over 90 percent of a member’s take-home pay. RMC lay near the 70th percentile of civilian wages for non-IT male workers with some college, but near the 50th percentile of wages for IT male workers with some college. By implication, the military/civilian pay ratio was lower in IT than in non-IT. (Comparisons for other education levels and for women are also given in Chapter Five.) Because lower relative pay was another reason to expect supply problems in IT, the strong results in IT recruiting and similar levels of reenlistment for IT and non-IT pointed to the conclusion that the military offers in-kind value in the IT field in the form of training and experience.
Conclusions: Restructuring IT Careers The evidence indicates that IT training and experience are a compensating differential that helps support the military’s ability to compete for IT recruits, despite the higher pay and amenities in civilian IT jobs. IT training and experience, augmented by enlistment bonuses and educational benefits as needed, seem sufficient to ensure an adequate flow of new recruits into IT. For the same reasons, the retention of IT personnel beyond the first term will depend on the value of further military IT training and experience, and of course on reenlistment incentives. If IT manpower requirements continue to evolve gradually, as they have for two decades, and if military IT training remains valuable in civilian jobs, we expect the military to be able to meet its future IT manpower requirements.
However, a sharp increase in military IT manpower requirements or the recurrence of a dot-com bubble could create difficulties. Depending on the likelihood of these occurrences, the military could develop hedging strategies such as maintaining an “excess” supply of trained IT personnel at certain grade-experience levels. Furthermore, if the military wants more flexibility in managing IT personnel—to have more varied career lengths, longer time in assignments, or longer time in certain ranks—IT careers and compensation will need to be restructured. The need for restructuring will depend on the value to the member of remaining in the military; if the member continues to gain valuable, transferable skills, the compensating differential mechanism will continue to operate.
Introduction and Overview 5
Organization of This Report
We describe the results of our literature review in Chapter Two, and we discuss the results of interviews with Army and Air Force personnel in Chapter Three. Chapter Four compares enlisted personnel flows in IT occupations with those in non-IT occupations, while Chapter Five analyzes civilian wages in IT and non-IT and compares them with military pay. In Chapter Six, we discuss a model that supports the validity of our argument and provides information on the mechanisms that affect IT recruitment and retention. Finally, Chapter Seven offers our conclusion and suggestions for future research on this topic. The appendixes contain a listing of military and civilian IT occupations used in this report, regressions on the personnel flows, wage comparisons for men and women with more than four years of college, and the technical development of the model in Chapter Six.
Issues and Practices in Managing IT Occupations:Views from the Literature
In this chapter, we examine discussions of IT occupations as found in existing academic literature, the popular press, and congressional testimony. We begin with a brief background section, in which we define what is included within the topic of “IT occupations,” and present an overview of some of the IT themes found in the literature.
We then shift our focus more specifically to the subject of IT worker management and compensation in the public and private sectors. One of the key issues discussed in relation to both sectors is a possible shortage of IT workers. Our literature review provides a framework for subsequent chapters, in which we present the results of interviews and data analysis regarding the characteristics and incentives of IT workers in the military.
Background: The Scope and Impact of IT Occupations
IT has been described as a “general-purpose technology” because it is adaptable to many uses and arguably of central importance to economic growth.1 Because of the remarkable technological progress in IT, its adaptation to military and nonmilitary uses is an ongoing and comparatively rapidly evolving process.
What Is an IT Occupation?
To examine the supply of IT workers within the military, we need first to define exactly what is meant by the term “IT occupation.” This task is not as simple as it might seem. In recent years, the development, application, and support of IT have become part of all sorts of traditional occupations. When attempting to single out IT occupations, researchers have typically focused on such positions as computer scientists (chip designers and systems architects), systems administrators, systems engineers, and programmers. But ambiguity emerges, for example, when considering workers engaged in hardware and software manufacturing and distribution functions, researchers and other professionals who rely heavily on computers and digital communication, and IT vocational education instructors. All these jobs are related to IT, but should all be classified as “IT positions”? The issue becomes more complicated when we consider the broad expanse of workers who might use some form of IT in their jobs, e.g., repairmen, deliverymen, retail clerks, secretaries, teachers, and so forth.
The literature includes several attempts to define the characteristics of an IT occupation. For example, a National Research Council report distinguishes between IT workers and ____________
1 Bresnahan and Trajtenberg, 1995.
8 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel IT-enabled workers; the distinction depends on whether IT knowledge or another domain of knowledge is more important to the value created by the job (National Research Council, 1993). According to this framework, IT workers depend most heavily on IT knowledge and skills to accomplish their objectives, while IT-enabled workers use IT in peripheral capacities to complement other skills that are more essential to the successful completion of their jobs.2 However, because IT is increasingly pervasive, a growing proportion of the nation’s workers can be considered IT enabled. IT-based communications, reporting, tracking, recordkeeping, bookkeeping, and so forth are commonplace, and as the trend continues it will be no more useful to describe a worker as IT enabled than to describe the worker as electricity enabled. This shortcoming of the above distinction suggests the need for a more nuanced description of IT occupations.
A study by the Computing Research Association designates four categories of IT workers: conceptualizers, developers, modifiers/extenders, and supporters/tenders (see Table 2.1).
Examining the columns in Table 2.1 from left to right, we see that IT occupations can have aspects of both a profession and a trade.
A trade is a skilled occupation, such as plumbing or carpentry, where training is most likely to occur through an apprenticeship. A profession, such as law or medicine, requires higher education, intellectual problem-solving skills, and certification exams that ensure everyone in the field is familiar with a common body of knowledge (Jacobs, 1998).
Conceptualizers, developers, and modifier/extenders tend more to the professional end of the spectrum in that they involve varying degrees of advanced skills and managerial ability, while supporter/tender occupations might be considered more like trades.
Table 2.1 Categories of Information Technology Workers
SOURCE: Computing Research Association, Intersociety Study Group on Information Technology Workers, April 1999, cited in Freeman and Asprey, 1999, p. 33.
2 To apply this distinction to the Army, an example of an IT worker would be an MOS 74B information systems operatoranalyst, whose “duties involve operating and maintaining information systems, personal computers, network servers, and associated devices.” See McHugh, 1998. An example of an IT-enabled worker would be the MOS 92A automated logistical specialist, who works with “state-of-the-art automated systems for ordering, distributing and storing supplies.” See Tice, 1998.
Issues and Practices in Managing IT Occupations: Views from the Literature 9 The distinction between professional and trade IT occupations corresponds approximately to a classification scheme presented in a recent DoD study group, which distinguished between IT occupations for enlisted and officer personnel (U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1999). During the 1990s, for the Army, designated IT occupations for enlisted personnel included information systems operator-analyst (74B), record telecommunications operator-maintainer (74C), telecommunications computer operator-maintainer (74G), information systems operator-maintainer (74Z), Army warrant officer: network management technician (250N), and data processing technician (251A). These occupations are similar to those listed in the supporter/tender column above. Designated IT occupations for Army officers included signal, general (25A), and systems automation management (53A).
These occupations touch on the categories of conceptualizer, developer, and modifier/ extender.