Monday, July 29, 2013

Is enlisted retention still an issue?

The title of this post is really a question for you all.  My perspective is rather constrained to CTN's, but in our Information Dominance Corps, is enlisted retention still an issue?

I just recently turned over my division of CTN's that in the last 2.5 years grew from 19 to 45, had about a dozen Sailors PCS, about half of them reenlisting, but had only a single Sailor drop paperwork to leave the Navy.

In my reflection of my first DIVO experience and after reading through Sharon Anderson's article in CHIPS titled, "Recruiting, Training and Maintaining Talent in the Cyber Workforce", I really wonder what all the fuss is about?

One of the biggest surprises to me when I joined the Navy and started to get to know the Sailors at my command, was that this was more often than not, life plan to them.  I didn't grow up in a military family.  I didn't grow up near any military families.  But from the brief encounters I had made with recently separated veterans, I just assumed that most folks joined a branch of the military, did a few years to honor and serve our country, and went back to the civilian side of the world carrying on with some great and well earned benefits.

This was clearly not the case.

Yes, for this particular tour, I work in a location that isn't rolling and rocking with heavy seas and yes I come home to see my family nearly every night, but yet, for some reason, we apparently have (or had) a problem with retention.
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.1
So money, eh?  I have handed out some fairly impressive SRB checks at some re-enlistments.  But according to individuals I have spoken with that did leave the service to find a job that utilizes their skills in the technology sector, neither the SRB nor the promise of retirement pay wins by dollar amounts alone.

I've seen the job listings, looking for CCNA/CCNP folks, I know companies are interested in Certified Ethical Hackers, companies want workers that are smart, talented, motivated, and can handle themselves in stressful situations with integrity, and yes many of my Sailors fill those slots nicely.

So why are they still in uniform?
The Navy has much to offer cyberspace professionals, [Rear Adm. Gretchen Herbert, Commander, Navy Cyber Forces] 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.1

Well rounded and all around job satisfaction.  Training, certifications, sense of duty, honor, responsibility, all in an extremely unique and demanding work environment.

Don't get me wrong.  I am not naive enough to think that job satisfaction alone is enough to keep folks around.  After a few years in, the pay and benefits do offer a nice standard of living.

I think as far as CTN's go, though, if there was an enlisted retention problem, based on my perspective, the quantity AND the quality/caliber of CTN's that are choosing to stay Navy seems to showcase that the Navy did and is handling it well.

How about your corner of the IDC?  Is staying Navy the norm?



  1. Great points! I have long been a skeptic of retention rates, Golden Anchors, and the way we choose to imply raw numbers are a useful metric. As I tell Sailors, I don't expect or want 100% of you to stay Navy, but I have a responsibility to give 100% of you reason to stay. Life is far too short not to follow our passion and if people are staying only because of the money, shame on them. If they are leaving for reasons other than money, good for them (and shame on us).

  2. Great points Jason. I agree on all accounts, and was actually discussing these issues today with one of my CTN1s. We, however were discussing the challenge of recruiting CTNs to NSW to be analysts. Our issue is that many of our most talented CTNs have such great job satisfaction where they are (the big four) that they don't want to leave!

    That said, in my tenure at Maryland, I saw many of our most talented operators and analysts choose to get out. I talked to most of them, and unfortunately, their reason for leaving was because they just wanted to do their job, without all the additional Navy requirements. They had the opportunity to move to the civilian sector doing the exact same job, without the burden of PT, GMTs, or any of the other overhead that comes with being an active duty Sailor. Now the good part is that most of the ones I spoke to were planning on staying in the government, and so our Nation will continue to benefit from their skills.

    I'm not sure that this qualifies as a problem, either. Like you said, so many stay for the opportunity to continue to do really cool stuff that we can afford to lose a few who don't want to play Navy anymore.