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20 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel instance, the Army restructured its Signal Corps military occupational specialties (MOSs) in 1997 and 1998, reducing the number of enlisted specialties from 50 to 18 and additional skill identifiers from 60 to 11. Maj. Gen. Michael Ackerman, commanding general of the Signal Center and School, Fort Gordon, expected the number of MOSs to fall even further “because of technological advancements that will allow certain equipment-specific specialties to be merged” (“Recent Restructuring Puts Signal Corps in Good Health,” 1998). As another example, in the late 1990s the Navy merged two enlisted ratings—data processing (DP) and radioman (RM), ultimately creating a new rating, information systems technician—which became the largest single source of enlisted IT personnel in the Navy. The Navy also created several new Naval Enlisted Classification (NEC) codes associated with specific skill requirements within the IT rating. These include information systems administrator (NEC 2735), network security vulnerability technician (NEC 2780), information systems security manager (NEC 2779), and advanced network analyst (NEC 2781). The information systems administrator was targeted toward pay grades E-4 and E-5, while the others were targeted on E-5 to E-8, E-7 to E-9, and E-6 to E-8, respectively.10 The consolidation of military IT occupations has raised the question of whether U.S.
military forces could benefit from using a cadre of highly trained IT professionals capable of fostering rapid innovations as needed. The Israeli armed forces have made such a move
through the creation of the Israeli Army’s computer corps, or Mamram:
In a country where all 18-year-olds are drafted for a minimum two years of military service, the computer corps skims only the cream, rejecting 9 out of 10 applicants.
Once in, recruits train for six months and must commit themselves to a six-year tour of duty. And while computer specialists are not run ragged on 50-mile forced marches, they endure 16-hour days and a failure rate that runs as high as 50 percent.
Instead of the M-16 assault rifles carried by combat soldiers, rookies at the military’s programming school in Ramat Gan, suburb of Tel Aviv, are taught to cherish their laptop and hand-held computers. “You won’t find anyone here who says the course is easy,” said Maj. Shai Bassan, the computer corps–training commander, as a classroom of 40 students clicked away at a programming exercise. “They are in a race in the framework of a commando unit,” the major said. “They know only the best will remain,” and join the elite corps. Those who survive the training at Ramat Gan spend time developing programs for everything from how to feed 10,000 soldiers efficiently to software that encodes communications for air strikes against Islamic militant guerilla bases in Lebanon. Company recruiters are also aggressively trying to hire army programmers because they manage projects using advanced technology that their age-group peers cannot get near in civilian industry (“Israeli Army Computer Corps Builds Success in Business,” 1999).
Whether it would make sense for the U.S. to amalgamate its IT occupations into an IT corps is an open question. The U.S. military is considerably larger and may find it more efficient to offer more IT tracks, each with a different kind of skill specialization.11 Also, the ____________
10 U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1999, pp. F-13–F-16. The report also provides other examples of how the services restructured or created new IT occupations.
11 The Navy officer corps has created a new primary designator (“community”) called the Information Profession (IP) community, with its own career path and structure. This community will be responsible for administering and managing information technology in the Navy. It appears that the Navy may be moving closer to the Israeli Army approach of a separate IT corps. We thank Stephen Mehay for this point.
Issues and Practices in Managing IT Occupations: Views from the Literature 21 military may find it effective to rely more on outside contractors or commercial off-the-shelf applications for programming than to follow Israel’s example.
Observations This survey of the relevant literature, popular press, and congressional studies on the topic of IT and the IT workforce suggests that personnel development and management is central to the quality and effectiveness of IT workers and is especially significant for the military services in their competition with private-sector firms.
Economic analyses are at last detecting the strong influence of IT on economic growth. The increase in computing power and the decrease in computing cost have been nothing short of phenomenal, and this has spurred the dissemination of IT throughout the economy. Economists have referred to IT as a general purpose technology that facilitates innovation in a host of areas, which leads to new products and more efficient processes, and which subsequently feeds back to increase the demand for further advances in IT. Given the many military activities that are counterparts to those in the civilian economy, the potential for advances in military applications seems equally large.
Economists also argue that the widespread diffusion of IT throughout the economy has contributed to the increased wage dispersion in the private sector. IT appears to be a complement for skills requiring knowledge and judgment and a substitute for repetitive activities and rote-knowledge skills. Wages rose more rapidly in the 1980s and early 1990s for workers with more education. Wages also became more disperse within a level of education, apparently as deeper knowledge and better judgment revealed on the job were rewarded.
Looking more closely at the attitudes of the IT workforce itself, our literature analysis suggested that IT workers in the private sector want access to the latest hardware and software, regular training to keep their skills up to date, flexible schedules that allow them to balance professional life and private life, challenges that keep them motivated (such as a chance to work on hot projects), and the commitment of their employer to help them build an exciting career. During the late-90s boom, IT workers were in high demand in the private sector. Their reportedly high pay, however, often came with long hours and little flexibility in their schedules. Moreover, the widely held view of a large shortage in the supply of IT workers, stretching well into this decade, was evidently mistaken.
Indeed, our literature review raised questions surrounding this reported shortage of IT workers, whether in the private or public sectors. Although the literature in several instances described concerns about such a shortage, in other instances it provided evidence that any such shortage might not be as likely or as severe as estimated. In fact, as noted previously, Lerman’s analysis showed that the inflow of college graduates would likely meet the then-anticipated growth in demand for IT workers. On net, the demand for IT workers can probably be described as a component of the demand for well-educated, high-aptitude workers.
The literature suggested that the compensation, management, and development of IT workers in the federal government were important to the successful recruitment and retention of high-quality IT employees. Several studies suggested that IT personnel management, especially in the public sector, had been hamstrung by an inadequate classification of IT jobs, an excess of jobs classifications, too little flexibility in pay levels and pay growth, and 22 Attracting the Best: How the Military Competes for Information Technology Personnel limited access to new hardware, software, and training. However, the literature also suggested that the federal government had recognized these issues and taken steps toward improvement.
For the military, IT training was found to play a crucial role in enhancing the attractiveness of IT positions to potential recruits. However, because of the value of IT skills in the civilian sector, IT training also presents a challenge to personnel retention. We will return to this possible contradiction in a later chapter.
Like other complex technology, IT hardware, software, and communications can be adapted to, and evolved for, particular applications in a way that simplifies their installation, use, maintenance, and repair. Therefore, the application of this inherently complex technology typically does not require highly specialized engineers and technicians, although they typically are required to invent, innovate, adapt, and evolve the technology for the application. By implication, the military’s growing reliance on IT does not necessarily imply an increase in the percentage of force members who are IT specialists, or in their education, training, and aptitude requirements. This is not to say that adapting IT to particular uses is done correctly the first time, that all uses are foreseen at the time of first adaptation, or that high demand for IT specialists will be a one-time event. However, the cycle of research, development, test, evaluation, and subsequent field use and feedback, with further adaptation, seems as well suited to IT as to other technologies used by the military. If so, we see the importance of having creative, capable leadership and personnel engaged in the transformation of the force—who envision the need for future capabilities; define prototypes, specifications, and probable doctrine; and oversee the range of activities from invention to test to acquisition.
Evidence from Field Interviews on the Management ofEnlisted IT Occupations
Although the observations drawn from recent literature and the popular press provide insight into the characteristics of both private- and public-sector IT occupations, a more practical and applied understanding of the IT sector and its personnel organization is also needed. To explore the existing IT personnel management structure in the armed forces and its potential for future flexibility and adaptation, we conducted field interviews with officers and enlisted members. We had hoped to gain a firsthand perspective on the connection between longterm visions of a transformed force heavily reliant on IT, on the one hand, and short-term IT manpower requirements on the other. We were particularly interested in IT manpower requirements in future force structures, how the requirements were determined, and how manpower planning connected the long-term requirements with short-term IT manpower needs.
The interviews were not extensive and provided only limited information about these questions. Although we heard reports of a shortage of IT personnel and gained information about manpower problems in specific occupations, we were not able to obtain a precise assessment of future force IT manpower needs. However, one of the most important implications of the information we did uncover on these issues is the recognition that, in many respects, it is not feasible for the services to predict the precise numbers of IT workers or types of IT activities that it will demand in the distant future. Both the nature of the military and the dominant characteristics of IT as a field (e.g., its broad scope, rapid change, and the many occupations that may be considered IT related) make it difficult to forecast future force structure or needs.1 The military cannot predict what kinds of new technology will materialize years from now, how applications based on the new technology will be incorporated into the armed forces, or what kinds of manpower will be needed by the applications.
However, the military’s inability to make such predictions successfully does not mean that its recruitment and retention policies will be unable to attract sufficient personnel or maintain an adequately qualified force. To the contrary, we recognized during the course of the interviews and research that it is more useful to study the flexibility and adaptability of the IT management structure and the personnel development policies. Fluidity and responsiveness in these areas can allow the armed forces to meet their manpower needs, regardless of what they might be. The information provided in our interviews, though not precisely what we were originally searching for, is pertinent because it sheds light on the extent of such ____________