To win in the information domain, a highly mobile Marine Corps executing the cognitive fight must be able to rely on a civilian workforce whose readiness is visible in their expertise, experience, and comprehensive training. While continuity has long been tacitly acknowledged as a foundational value of the civilian workforce, it must yield to a value of workforce readiness in this time of volatility and uncertainty to meet the challenges of an operational environment which breaks the rules of traditional boundaries as it stretches from the point of contact to the garrison workspace.
In the best information and data-dependent organizations, people are seen as the greatest asset. As an asset, people are the innovation and decision engines for the organization, as explained in the Secretary of the Navy Cybersecurity Readiness Review. A foundation for transition to workforce readiness can be directly attributed to the strategic anchors in the 2019 Department of Navy (DON) Human Capital Strategy. The strategy represents the fundamental shift to enhance the human experience and offers the opportunity to re-think talent strategy by adapting the current human capital paradigm from attract, develop and retain to access, curate and engage. Based on this foundation, the United States Marine Corps Information Civilian Workforce Concept must strive to create a workforce that is Prepared, Positioned, and Adapting to win the cognitive fight.
Today, the Marine Corps, like the other military services, is exquisitely organized, structured and cultured for a previous era; this is especially true for the information civilian workforce. To achieve success in the Information Environment (IE), the Corps must compete for talent with top-tier private and public organizations – and win. Several challenges must be addressed to push forward:
- The rigid government civilian acquisition structure was not built for the high demand and skilled talent pool needed in the IE.
- The tsunami of data and online learning sites lack a holistic enterprise approach or structure.
- Diversity and generational change are not reflected in our government service civilian workforce.
- The ongoing transition to a newly defined Department of Defense (DoD) Cyber Workforce Framework (DoD 8140 series).
A concept can be instituted based on three vectors and can be easily activated to become the bedrock of a mission-driven human capital strategy built for the unique IE. Three simple vectors of change to adjust the current view of accessing talent, include developing the skills and the learning experience, and refreshing the cultivation of the civilian workforce.
Three Vectors to Change
1. Branding: Creating a ready workforce, tailored for the cognitive fight, begins with a proactive, streamlined talent acquisition strategy augmented with modern tools and commercial best practices. This requires the deployment of game-changing technological recruitment tools and seizing the opportunities they provide through aggressive use of direct hiring authorities to reduce time to fill positions.
Instituting a mission-driven, compelling service experience brand, centered on a cultural shift embracing an infusion of new ideas and experiences (new ecosystem of talent), and nested with DON Human Capital Strategic Anchor #1: (Access/Curate “Best in Class” talent), will yield a civilian workforce fitted to the challenges of the information environment. This concept is illustrated in Figure 1.
New generations do indeed want the opportunity to serve but our current hiring system makes it difficult. Do not let the pay disparity between the government and private sector stop you from reaching for talent; rather, use of modified work schedules, increased use of career ladder positions, defined retirement benefits, and a distributed work environment can offset that disparity.
We need to reach potential candidates on the platforms they search, live and interact. To that end, the Deputy Commandant for Information (DC I) is using LinkedIn Jobs, Handshake, Indeed and participating in virtual jobs fairs. Finally, every organization will need to re-think jobs both in the short-term to meet demand for new skills and long-term to anticipate changes in technology and workforce agility.
Agility is more relevant now than ever as telework has become the norm during the current pandemic. There was a 46% increase in IE new employees from 2019 to 2020, according to analysis from the DON Total Workforce Management Service for IT and the INTEL community of interest. Thus, the Marine Corps information civilian workforce received a recent new influx of talent. Branding will help continue this trend.
2. Infrastructure: Developing civilian readiness leverages a balanced mix of technology, on-site courses, and industry and academic partnerships to deliver intuitive, on-demand professional development experiences. “Always on” learning systems, built on the foundation of an Information Development Institute (IDI) – the current Deputy Commandant for Information (DC I) prototype approach to systematic learning and development, will be key to successful change, illustrated in Figure2.
Intended to be supported by a modern learning system, relevant curriculum, and program analytics — the IDI will utilize best practices from strategic partnerships with universities, industry exchanges, and DoD/DON programs. The program seeks to benefit from a partnership with industry to aid in the transition from a certification-based training approach to a skills-based approach.
Alongside the MarineNet portal, a training delivery platform can provide a technology-based learning ecosystem in a distributed work environment that helps comply with the DoD 8140 directives and drives us toward a data-driven and cyber-ready civilian force design.
Industry products can rapidly provide access to extensive content, learning customization, aptitude metric support and gamification. The IDI will be designed to deliver training in the existing flow of work while ensuring our alignment with DON Human Capital strategic anchor #2 (“Develop Skills for the Future”) and Anchor #5 (“Enable a technology-augmented workforce.”).
The IDI will build on implementation of DoD Manual 8140 — a Corps framework for progressive breadth/depth in IE skills and experience. It will utilize the current Marine Corps community of interest (COI) program as its foundational building block. The IDI seeks to accomplish three goals: lead training and education; drive innovative learning; and initiate talent advocacy –missing ingredients in our current COI model, as summarized in Figure 3.
3. Pathways: Generating readiness in the civilian workforce relies on a structured growth and support system comprised of designated key billets using rotational and broadening experiences, augmented with data-driven people analytics to support workforce planning. Enhanced and compelling workforce experience helps unleash the capacity to focus efforts on higher value tasks, provides dynamic succession options and creates a robust pipeline of talent in alignment with DON HC Anchor# 4 (“Strengthen the bench of future talent”), and Anchor #3 (“Harness the power of data”).
This is the more difficult among tasks for our current COI program and the future IDI prototype because the Marine Corps does not centrally hire, and civilian succession is based on a desire to move up and the availability of a position. Simply providing career maps/guides will not be sufficient. It doesn’t solve the overall talent advocacy issue, in addition to these “guides,” we need to provide opportunities for growth.
“The DON must provide a civilian workforce that evolves and innovates quicker, helping ensure our Sailors and Marines are prepared for the future.”
– DON Civilian HC Strategy 2019
The DC I-led COIs will look to design creative options such as organizational — Navy/Marine Corps exchanges, problem-centric collaborative temporary assignments, and industry partnerships to provide the pathway for growth. The balanced combination of career maps/guides and broadening opportunities will help shape workforce exposure to complex problem-solving and add to their skill/knowledge base to make them competitive for higher responsibility.
The role of the Marine Corps civilian information workforce is not separate and distinct from active duty Marines conducting missions in the information environment; it is complementary. Shifting the organizational culture of the information workforce to gain and maintain an operational advantage in the cognitive fight is a daunting challenge. It requires a purposeful commitment encompassing the full range of human capital management resources and authorities to set the conditions for strategic success.
Organizational culture is the underlying beliefs, assumptions, values and ways of interacting that contribute to the unique environment of an organization. The DC I is in a unique position to set the course and pace for fundamental change in its civilian workforce — to create a strong culture and a focused civilian workforce strategy as the cornerstones to make and sustain meaningful change. A diverse and ready civilian workforce is our key asymmetric advantage.
Alfredo Rodriguez III is the IT/Cybersecurity Community of Interest Manager, Headquarters Marine Corps (HQMC), Deputy Commandant for Information.