WASHINGTON (Army News Service) — Traditionally, young people have come to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, with an idea of which branch they want to join, be it infantry, cyber, transportation or any number of other branches.
For some cadets, however, their dream branches haven’t always proven the best fit for them, and many discover that only after their first assignment, said Col. Joanne C. Moore, during a presentation Thursday at the 7th Annual Army G-8 Women’s Symposium at the Pentagon.
Recently, through a process called “talent-based branching,” the Army began offering cadets a battery of assessments that inform them if their preferred branch is a good fit or if they would be better off elsewhere, explained Moore, who is the strategic initiatives chief and Talent Management Task Force lead for the assistant secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, G-1.
As part of the program, Army proponents ranked the top performance attributes they believed a Soldier must have in order to be successful in their branches. Those attributes included cognitive, non-cognitive, behavioral and physical performance elements.
The Army then evaluated the results of tests, academic files, and supervisor recommendations to determine which branches the cadets best fit into. Matching personal performance attributes with branch attributes led to some surprising results, Moore said.
“We found through this assessment process that we actually changed their preferences over the course of four years, so by the time they branched,” she said, offering an example, “someone who said ‘I want to be infantry,’ now saw themselves in some other branch.”
The results of the assessment batteries have actually changed cadets’ behavior. “We’ve actually seen more minorities and women going [into] combat arms branches,” she said. Minorities and women, she added, have traditionally shied away from combat arms.
Additionally, women have spread out more into all of the branches, where traditionally, they were bundled primarily into just three or four branches, she said.
“Someone who’s fully informed can make a better choice, and that can change their mindset,” she said, explaining why the assessment batteries have changed behavior.
The results were “a big win in the eyes of Army leaders,” who have long sought to diversify the Army by spreading the wealth of talent around more evenly, she said.
It is too early to tell now how the program will change the Army, as the program is in its infancy, but Moore expects that an uptick of those who are in branches that best fit their skills, talents and knowledge will result in them being happier, more productive and easier to retain.
Moore said the assessment batteries have been extended to cadets in the Reserve Officer Training Corps as well.
OTHER TALENT MANAGEMENT EFFORTS
The Army is also looking at other ways to evaluate how successful a Soldier will be in a given setting, Moore said.
For instance, the Army could require officers to take the Graduate Record Examination prior to going to an advanced school to see how successful they might be. “We don’t want to set you up for failure, we want you to succeed,” she said, explaining the purpose of using the GRE.
In another area, the Army is piloting a battery of assessments for captains in the Aviation Captains Career Course, similar to what the cadets receive, but also incorporating the officers’ military performance history and tests specifically related to company grade opportunities (e.g., Voluntary Transfer Incentive Program and broadening).
The captains participating in the pilot also will be assigned career counselors who help them plot career paths that align closely with their talents, she said. For example, the counselor might encourage an officer with high GRE scores to consider a range of opportunities that involve graduate school or fellowship opportunities.
In the future, these counseling sessions could even focus on tailoring an officer’s career timeline to his or her desired opportunities, perhaps forecasting the decision to opt out of a promotion board to take advantage of a particular opportunity — without penalty. “We’re trying to open up time rather than feel pressure to timeline things on a schedule,” she said.
While the Army is looking at this now, it would take legislative action to make it happen, she said.
TAKING A BREAK
Moore said that if talent management will make for a happier and more productive Soldier, so too could taking a break from the Army.
The Career Intermission Pilot Program lets Soldiers to do just that, she said. It allows Soldiers and officers up to two years off, and re-places them in a new cohort commensurate with the break. While in the program, Soldiers do not receive pay, but they but do continue to receive some benefits, such as health care.
The time off could be used for finishing college, raising toddlers, or helping aging parents, she said.
LONG WAYS TO GO
The Army is now trying to figure out the best way to match unit requirements and talents of both officer and enlisted, across all components, Moore said.
Mistakes have been made in the past in mismatching talent to positions because the Army didn’t capture detailed requirements of specific jobs, or didn’t capture underlying talents that weren’t apparent in a soldier’s current record, she said. She cited as an example the situation where an officer of Liberian heritage was serving in Korea instead of accompanying forces sent to Liberia for the Ebola crisis.
Matching the right talent with the right job continues to be a “big-system problem,” Moore said, and it’s something the Army’s human resources community is working to get its arms around.
(Follow David Vergun on Twitter: @vergunARNEWS)