Army pushes new effort to reskill, upskill its IT workforce

The new project, called Quantum Leap, aims to reshuffle about 1,000 members of the Army's IT and cyber workforce between now and 2023. Officials say the current...

As part of its new “people strategy,” the Army said it wants to transform its approach to its civilian workforce through long-term focus on talent management. In at least some respects, the Army’s IT workforce may end up leading the way.

Over the next several years, the Army plans to recode thousands of positions and reskill and upskill the people who currently hold them via a new project called Quantum Leap. Although the Army’s broader people strategy is meant to address the entire talent management lifecycle, including acquiring new talent, Quantum Leap is specifically focused on the 15,000 people who are already part of the cyber and IT management workforce.

“We’ve faced the fact that that workforce is currently not skilled to meet the emerging requirements of the future, and we’re going to need different skills five, eight, ten years from now,” said Bryan Shone, the director for policy and resources in the Army CIO’s office. “It’s not just a realization that we have the wrong set of skills for what we’ll need in the future, it’s about what can we do to get there.”

Reskilling thousands of employees and changing their job descriptions won’t happen overnight. The Army, Shone said, is taking the problem one piece at a time, with an initial goal of retraining about a thousand employees between now and 2023.

“We’re going to prioritize the skills that we’re lacking the most, which are very much in that information age area — things like data managers, systems analysts, application software developers,” he said during AFCEA International’s Army Signal Conference this week. “And we’re going to have to make some tough decisions on some occupational series we’re going to have to reduce, because this is not something where we’re just going to ask for more people to solve the problem. So we might reduce some telecommunications folks, some library technicians, some things that are a little bit less of a priority in that information age.”

The Army is deliberately using the word “reskill,” rather than “recertify.” Officials said formal IT certification programs will still play a role in the future IT and cyber workforce, but the Army is more interested in real-world skills. So one of Quantum Leap’s first steps will be to try to get a better handle on what skills its employees already have that might be unknown to the Army, or are underutilized.

“We want to baseline the force. What skills do they have today? Then we want to start to entice or incentivize them to start gaining the skills that we want them to have for the future, and we’re not going to go the old traditional way of sending someone off to a two and a half year school. What we’re going to try to do is leverage these more innovative ways that industry and academia are training their workforces,” Shone said. “The platforms are available 24/7, you can hop on … it’s almost like a video game, so this is something that entices a lot of the younger folks. You can take this 45-minute training course and if you get a score, you can move on to the next thing. We believe that gets us off of the old emphasis on certification and focuses on the no-kidding technical and leadership skills that we want our workforce to have in the future.”

Julie Cruz, the career program manager for the Army’s IT workforce, said the service has been working closely with the Office of Personnel Management as the agency updates the government’s 2210 job classification series and aligns it to the National Cybersecurity Workforce Framework.

“We believe there are things that just need to be refreshed,” she said. “I got a call this morning about librarians: Do they need a degree? And my question was, ‘Do we even need the librarian series?’ Because what’s happening is everyone that’s coming out of high school and college, they want these nice, cool titles. If they’re managing data on a virtual platform, they could be a 2210 and not just a librarian. We’re trying to match what the workforce is looking for with what we need.”

But even though the Army wants its training programs – and indeed, its job titles – to be appealing to younger employees, officials are trying to construct Quantum Leap in a way that also leverages the skills and experience of its more seasoned workers.

“We need to continue to leverage one of the greatest assets the Army has, which is a diverse workforce. And diversity includes race, gender, age, all that stuff,” Shone said. “For our more experienced workforce, we want to leverage them in leadership roles. What Cruz has found in her analysis is with that certification emphasis we have today, we haven’t really been looking for those leadership skills – the soft skills. We’ve been focused on whether or not they have a certification, and that’s not the kind of criteria we want to use going forward.”

The new workforce initiative comes at a time when the Army is also overhauling its overall IT governance structure. Starting later this year, the Army’s CIO will be a standalone position reporting directly to the Army secretary. For the last two decades, that role has been dual-hatted with a three-star military position, the deputy chief of staff, G-6.

Greg Garcia, the deputy CIO, told reporters last month the splitting of the CIO and the G-6 will happen in tandem with Quantum Leap — and that the two projects are inextricably linked.

“No one will lose their jobs in this restructure. It’s really about the great qualities they bring today, and it’s really a tremendous opportunity to upskill and reskill the current excellent workforce for the future,” he said. “There’s a significant shift in the complexity and correlation of IT technology, cybersecurity, information management and data management. There’s been an emergence of the chief data officer, there’s been the emergence of Army Cyber Command as an organization. These all will drive the need to improve mission outcomes with the application of cloud and data analytics, AI, machine learning. So we’ll be allocating individuals to the functions that are decided in the reorganization of the CIO and the G-6, but we’re looking not only to move them, but to upskill and reskill them.”

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