THE PENTAGON – The Department of the Navy needs to improve how it attracts and keeps its civilian workforce as the Navy and Marine Corps hope to grow and modernize in the coming years.
Understanding that the services not only are bound by cumbersome federal hiring rules but also can’t match the salaries that private industry can offer in-demand skilled workers, the Department of the Navy has laid out a strategy for how to recruit young and skilled talent with incentives beyond salary, and how to make their work environment better once they’re on the job so that they’ll want to stay.
“We are in a war for talent for the civilian workforce, just like we are on the uniformed side. And that was one of the reasons for the development of this human capital strategy,” Assistant Secretary of the Navy Manpower and Reserve Affairs Greg Slavonic told reporters today at the Pentagon.
The Department of the Navy 2019-2030 Civilian Human Capital Strategy, released today, does not address specific kinds of civilian workers – ship and aircraft maintainers, scientists and engineers, acquisition professionals, and many more areas across the Navy and Marine Corps that create a 220,000-person civilian cadre. But it does address common themes from throughout the workforce – the Navy can’t take advantage of cloud storage and sharing capabilities due to security concerns that limit them to Navy networks that are often times slow and difficult to work within, for example – and promises to create a better technology atmosphere, better hiring and promoting practices, and modern education opportunities that will benefit all sectors of the DoN civilian workforce.
The strategy includes five overarching anchors for the DoN’s focus: access and curate the best-in-class talent; develop skills for the future; harness the power of data; strengthen the bench of future talent; and enable a technology-augmented workforce. These anchors will be addressed in local commands, in professional communities and in the DoN overall, depending on what workforce challenges exist that need to be overcome.
Slavonic said each anchor will have pilot programs, the first of which will be kicked off within the next six months, aimed at beginning to understand how the department can better attract the right new workers, train and educate its workforce, understand the skills and gaps in skills present in the workforce, and incentivize the best workers to stay with the Navy.
For example, on the issue of attracting the best talent to want to apply for Navy and Marine Corps jobs in the first place, the strategy states that, “to achieve its mission, the DoN must compete for talent with top-tier private and public organizations – and win the battle. From scientists to shipyard artisans, the DoN will play to its biggest strength – the mission of supporting United States Sailors and Marines. If the DoN cannot connect the day-to-day work of every single employee to this broader mission, and create a compelling and engaging workforce experience, top-tier talent will bypass the Department for other organizations that have other perks to offer.”
The document continues, “the Department recognizes that it cannot offer the pay or perhaps some of the unique perks that these companies [in commercial industry] offer. But it can offer something different: the mission—coupled with the experience.”
But that experience may need some improving, the strategy document and Slavonic’s staff agree.
“The mission alone might not be enough: the DoN also needs to offer people a world class experience at work, career mobility that extends across many years of service, and ample access to the best tools, technologies, and processes that free people up to do their best work in jobs that continue to have meaning and purpose.”
Slavonic’s staff told USNI News that they want to do a better job of understanding what workplace issues frustrate employees and keep them from their full potential, whether it’s a tablet that would save them significant time throughout their workday or a better practice for requesting vacation time.
“People in general will have a feeling of, if I come work for the Navy, this is a great place to work, I enjoy my job, I enjoy the substance of my job – which is usually what will attract them initially, but you don’t want the everyday problems to detract from that such that they decide to leave and go someplace else,” one staff member said during the roundtable on condition of not being named.
Another staffer said an early focus on this topic area will be understanding how to better communicate with employees to understand what these frustrations even are, so that they can be delegated to the right command level to be fixed.
Another issue the strategy highlights is not only hiring people with the right skills for the future, but also creating an education system where the current workforce can stay sharp and continue to learn as their jobs and the Navy’s needs evolve.
“Across both public and private sector organizations, there has been a significant evolution in the role of learning. From the organization’s perspective, it is recognized more than ever that continuously identifying and building future critical skills is central to being a high-performing organization. From the individual’s perspective, having the ability to continually grow new skills, leading to fresh opportunities over the course of a career, is a required feature of a great experience at work. Moreover, learning must be ‘always on’ and happen right in the flow of work, not as a separate event. New digital learning delivery technologies support these aims, enabling short bursts of learning at the time of need to complement traditional classroom or other face-to-face approaches,” reads the strategy.”
The document notes that the Department of the Navy has a longer-tenured civilian workforce than its counterparts – the median length of service is eight years for the DoN, compared to 6.8 years in the government overall and 3.8 years in industry – and as such the department should be obligated to help its employees grow along the way.
“To develop modern learning experiences focused on future skills, the DoN will designate resources to both military and civilian learning efforts and align civilian learning with the Education for Seapower (E4S) military initiative. Additionally, the DoN will listen to the voice of the workforce to understand learning preferences and needs before selecting an appropriate digital learning platform. Finally, successful learning programs that are already operating within parts of the organization will be scaled Department-wide to have a larger impact and broaden the skills of the civilian workforce at large.”