Magazine article National Defense

Cyber Talent Wanted

Magazine article National Defense

Cyber Talent Wanted

Article excerpt

The private sector has for years lured cyber talent away from the government with promises of higher compensation. To counter this, leaders within the military and intelligence community are implementing a slew of programs that they believe will boost retention.

The Army is closely monitoring retention rates for its cyber workforce, including officers, enlisted soldiers and civilians, said Todd Boudreau, deputy commandant of the U.S. Army Cyber School at the Cyber Center of Excellence in Fort Gordon, Georgia.

"We do know that there is a challenge to retain that workforce," he told National Defense in an interview.

While the Army recognizes that it cannot pay as much as the private sector can, there are ways that the service can entice its workforce to stay in government, said Sgt. Maj. Karl Pendergrass, the Army's cyber training and education directorate sergeant major.

One example includes special incentive pay for jobs that are deemed to be particularly critical, he noted.

The Army is currently exploring ways to piggyback off of a Pentagon program to incentivize service members to have proficiency in certain languages, he said.

For a soldier to be a top-tier cyber professional, it requires significant dedication to education and certifications that are outside of the scope of their normal duties, he noted. The Army wants to reward those men and women who spend that time investing in their profession, he added.

"Similar to a language program, [it's] based on the level of your proficiency [and] you get paid more a month," he said. "But you have to maintain that, and so it's a very rigorous program to make sure that you're achieving and maintaining those standards."

However, Pendergrass said he often finds that pay isn't a top factor for most Army cyberwarriors.

"We provide them with a unique environment where they get access to things that their counterparts typically do not. They get access to unique mission sets and environments," he said. "Keeping their minds engaged ... is something they find uniquely attractive."

The service also permits its personnel to work with industry for a certain amount of time, enabling them to obtain important experience that they can then apply to their regular military job.

It "allows us to collaborate alongside industry," he said. "We send someone off to Microsoft to work in their spaces and then [they] bring back what they've learned. ... What they give us back is remarkably valuable, because remember those companies - the Citibanks, the Carnegie Mellons, the Microsofts, the Googles - they also have their own ... cyber protection entity."

The Army is also initiating a direct commissioning pilot program that will allow the service to recruit from a bigger pool, Boudreau said.

Direct commissioned officers are often lawyers, doctors, veterinarians or chaplains, he said. "The Army recognizes we're not going to stand up our own medical school or our own theological college," he said. "Individuals that have the bachelor's degree and have gone through those different programs, they're assessed in the Army outside of your normal" channels.

Officers who join through the initiative are normally awarded three years worth of credit, allowing them to come in as a first lieutenant and on the precipice of becoming a captain, he said. Doctors can even come in at the colonel level, he added.

The National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 gave the Army the authority to offer such a path for cyber professionals under a pilot that will last five years, he said.

"The Army has already jumped in and has established a baseline of between five and 10 individuals that we would bring in a year," he said. It has already held interviews with applicants, but a timeline for when they would be approved is not yet available.

Data so far shows that the service is successfully retaining its top talent, Boudreau said.

"We don't really see an alarming retention problem," he said. …

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