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CHIPS Articles: Recruiting, Training and Maintaining Talent in the Cyber Workforce

Recruiting, Training and Maintaining Talent in the Cyber Workforce
By Sharon Anderson - July-September 2013
Today’s cyberspace professionals can command high pay, and the competition for their talents is fiercely competitive in all areas of industry, academia and government. While the need for cyber expertise is acute, the pool of qualified candidates is small, which presents a significant recruiting, training and retention challenge for the Department of the Navy.

The DON cyberspace/information technology workforce performs a broad range of mission-critical jobs: computer security; information assurance; network administration, analysis and defense; acquisition; and electromagnetic spectrum operations. In the Navy, the Information Dominance Corps includes specialists in intelligence, information warfare, information operations, meteorology, oceanography and space communities for the workforce defined as. The IDC is comprised of 44,000 military (officer and enlisted) and civilian personnel.

At a military conference, three of the DON’s cyberspace/IT leaders tackled the difficult question of how to attract, train and keep individuals with these skill-sets working in the Navy and Marine Corps as military and civilian cyberspace professionals. Mr. Ken Gill, the Assistant Chief of Staff G6 for Marine Forces Command; Mr. Terry Halvorsen, the DON Chief Information Officer; and Rear Adm. Gretchen Herbert, Commander, Navy Cyber Forces, debated the topic in a panel discussion at the Joint Warfighting Conference in Virginia Beach, Va., May 15.

Mr. Gill said his concern for the Marine Corps is not in recruitment but in training and retaining cyberspace professionals. Typically, the Marine Corps loses a significant number of its military personnel annually. To compensate for the loss and as it reshapes the force, since 1990, the Marine Corps has been rebalancing the workforce through the revision of its Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes, including those dealing with cyberspace. The specialties encompass a system of categorizing career fields with corresponding training and job requirements. All enlisted and officer Marines are assigned a four-digit code denoting their occupational field and specialty. Mr. Gill said the Marine Corps is moving away from training in stovepipes and is leveraging cross-training opportunities. For example, network personnel will learn everything that is job-related in their field, and will remain focused on the Marine Corps’ core warfighting mission, he said. Mr. Gill underscored that it is not just a matter of recruiting manpower but the right manning in filling cyber jobs.

Mr. Halvorsen agreed with the need for cross-training and said it will be necessary to blend the entire military and civilian cyberspace/IT workforce to meet critical gaps in manning. There will be a cultural shift in the department’s cyberspace/IT workforce planning and training efforts, he said. To attract and sustain a pool of cyberspace/IT professionals, the DON must develop creative ways to compete with salaries offered by the commercial sector. The department must make the case for and defend the resources necessary to support continuous training because technology and cyber threats change rapidly. Also, it will be necessary to create recruiting incentives and develop different compensation models and possibly special pay categories to fill critical gaps in cyberspace/IT positions, he said.

To fill shortfalls in cyber manning, Rear Adm. Herbert offered a unique approach that industry has used to share expertise among competing requirements and make better use of the Navy’s Information Dominance Corps. For example, a network analyst may not be needed for an entire work shift on a particular task, maybe four hours will suffice so the analyst could move on to another vital tasking. This paradigm shift could lead to greater collaboration among the workforce and greater productivity, she said. There can be no demarcation in Information Dominance Corps military jobs, the need to broaden job skills and enable resiliency across the IDC is an imperative, Rear Adm. Herbert said.

The admiral said the Navy recently conducted a three-week C5I (command, control, communications, computers, combat systems and intelligence) review to better balance manning in the Navy’s Information Dominance Corps and to better align training requirements. The aim of training is beyond just the “buttonology” of learning a skill, rather the goal is for information systems technicians (ITs) and cryptologic technicians (CTs), for example, to be able to employ critical thinking skills and fundamental knowledge. The Navy is evaluating individual skills training, education, and systems training plans, as well as funding prioritization. For instance, the Navy’s new shipboard network, CANES — Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services — is currently being installed on the USS Milius and within the next 10 years, CANES will be deployed to 192 ships in the fleet. ITs will have to be trained to defend and operate the new network, Rear Adm. Herbert said.

The Navy is also looking at IDC officers’ mid-career and leadership training, Rear Adm. Herbert said. But she suggested that the Navy should move away from service-specific parochial interests for greater sharing of training resources with the other services.

The Navy has much to offer cyberspace professionals, the admiral said. In addition to the much coveted training Navy enlisted personnel receive in “A” schools and the opportunity to obtain commercial certifications, IDC junior service members have far greater responsibilities than their counterparts in the commercial sector and the value they place on their contributions to national security remain significant recruiting and retention factors. While perhaps the Navy cannot compete with commercial salaries, service members express job satisfaction with the challenging work they perform and identify strongly with the core values and culture of the Navy, Rear Adm. Herbert said.

Mr. Gill and Rear Adm. Herbert said that the Marine Corps and the Navy are reviewing their Mission Essential Task Lists as another way to better align training to requirements. A METL is a list of tasks considered essential to the accomplishment of a mission and may include associated conditions, standards and supporting tasks. The Navy is also conducting training and education pilots; one example, which began in December 2012, is making graduate-level education available to IDC officers and civilians through a new partnership with Carnegie Mellon University.

The panelists agreed that commercial IT certifications are important training tools and recruiting and retention incentives, and in some cases a Defense Department requirement to fill a position, but that more innovative ways of training are needed to ensure the cyberspace workforce keeps pace with technology advances and risks, especially in an era of fiscal austerity.

Each of the panelists praised the continued dedication to duty and extraordinary work of the DON’s cyberspace professionals in meeting increasingly greater demands to protect and defend the department’s cyberspace assets. The panelists said they want the members of the cyberspace workforce to know that their work is appreciated and their contributions to the DON are valued.

While there are no easy answers to the challenges, the panelists said the department is conducting multiple reviews to ensure that Navy and Marine Corps cyberspace training remains world-class and meets the needs of an unrivaled DON cyberspace workforce.

For more information about cybersecurity and the cyberspace workforce, please visit the DON CIO website:

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (May 15, 2013) Retired Marine Corps Col. Kenyon Gill, left, Assistant Chief of Staff, G6 for Marine Forces Command, Rear Adm. Gretchen S. Herbert, commander of Navy Cyber Forces, and Terry Halvorsen, Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer (DON CIO), present a panel discussion titled, “Recruiting, Training and Maintaining Talent in the Cyber Workforce.” The panel answered questions from an audience consisting of military and civilian guests at the East: Joint Warfighting 2013 Conference at the Virginia Beach Convention Center. U.S. Navy photo by Robin Hicks/Navy Cyber Forces.
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