DOD's innovation board suggests hiring shortcuts for tech talent

The Defense Department's readiness in emerging technology areas such as data science will slip away unless it changes its hiring processes, according to the Defense Innovation Board's recommendations.

The Defense Department would benefit from waivers to shore up tech hiring, according to the Defense Innovation Board's latest recommendations.

"DOD leaders must take immediate actions now to augment and leverage its existing digital talent in the Services or risk falling behind near peer competitors in critical technical competitions," the board wrote in its report dated Oct. 31.

"As the cyber effort has demonstrated, fully building out a new career track takes time. DOD has to accelerate its efforts with other digital/innovation specialties."

The board said it wants each service to create a Digital Innovation Talent Management program to attract and retain high-value talent until they can "stand up permanent pathways to develop, use, and promote service members with digital innovation skills."

The program's goal — and that of the DIB's recommendations overall — is to remove any obstacles current service members with tech skills face, particularly requirements to serve in operational capacities before digital roles and a culture that discourages taking on outside assignments.

The report noted that DOD loses out on its investment and readiness when it pays for higher education but doesn't allow service members to serve in a tech capacity after graduating.

"If recent graduates in data science or [artificial intelligence and machine learning] must serve three years in an unrelated role in their original career path, they will be out of touch with the latest developments," the DIB wrote. "It is impossible to maximize for both cutting edge operational and digital experience at the same time."

To be eligible, workers would either have skills that don't align with current career pathways, such as an Army infantry soldier who can code since the services doesn't have a software developer track.

Workers with the needed skill sets would also be able to take assignments that stray from their assigned career path, such as moving from Air Force aircraft maintenance to work with one of the service's software factories like Kessel Run.

Assignments would be centrally managed and service members performance would be evaluated after each completed project. Those who are selected to stay in the program would be promotable under a separate policy and considered for rank or pay bumps based on responsibility level.

DIB stressed in its report that the centralized program would be a temporary fix until the military services could stand up their own solutions to ensure "key innovation and technology initiatives are fully staffed, and second, that the most service members with the greatest potential are retained."

Once those solutions are stood up, service members would transfer from the program and reintegrate into the service's new related career path.

The report also recommended DOD highlight and prioritize digital innovation offices — in the vein of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX and NavalX — to reclassify billets so service members, including enlisted, can be plucked to fill positions regardless of rank or specialty.

But for lasting change, the Defense Department would need to ascertain the specialties and talent needed to achieve digital readiness. The DIB suggested using the Military Occupational Classification Joint Service Working Group to suss out required skill sets and tradeoffs, while also setting workforce standards.

And while the DIB has suggested temporary shortcuts, formal solutions need to be rapidly developed.

"DOD will need to recruit, hire, train and develop people with a range of specialties (military and civilian) to effectively adopt and apply digital capabilities across the force," the report stated. "DOD cannot afford to slow consideration of formal pathways."

This article first appeared on FCW, a partner site of Defense Systems. 

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