The struggle to find and hire tech talent is ongoing for employers of all shapes and sizes. And a recent report suggests that even large and well-resourced organizations like the Department of Defense (DoD) are not immune.
In “The Race for U.S. Technical Talent: Can the DoD and DIB Compete?” a team of researchers from the Center for Security and Emerging Technology sought to “illuminate trends in tech talent migration between different industry sectors and major metro areas, with the goal of informing future workforce development efforts across the defense community and the United States more broadly.”
Writing that technical talent is “essential to U.S. innovation and growth,” the authors point out that the mobility of these workers is also critical, “as the movement of technical talent promotes the diffusion of ideas, expands professional networks and spurs the development of innovative products.”
Of course, agencies’ ability to find and hire these highly mobile tech workers is paramount to remaining competitive and staying on the cutting edge, technologically speaking. This is especially true for the defense community, “which needs ready access to cutting-edge technologies and the workers who can design, develop and deploy them,” the researchers wrote.
“Conventional wisdom holds that the DoD and the defense industrial base (DIB)—collectively referred to as the defense community—generally struggle to access the technical talent they need,” the authors concluded, noting that “countless studies and media reports detail the deficit of technical talent within the defense community, and the numerous risks associated with this shortfall.”
Ensuring Access to Talent
Using data detailing LinkedIn positions based in the United States with start dates between 1998 and 2021, the researchers’ analysis “validates some of the conventional wisdom,” and identified three significant trends seen across the defense community’s technical workforce.
For example, the report states that the defense community is not replacing or expanding its technical workforce at the same rate as other industry sectors, noting that the share of incoming versus outgoing workers was relatively equal for most sectors between 1998 and 2021, but more than 75% of technical talent flows were outgoing at DoD.
Secondly, the researchers found the defense community to be “relatively isolated” from other sectors, with regard to talent cross-flow and geographic hubs, with the authors pointing out that this isolation can slow technology adoption.
“Additionally, tenures in the defense community tend to be longer than other industry sectors, which may also limit mobility and the sharing of innovative ideas and techniques,” they added.
Finally, the investigators determined that DoD recruits a relatively small share of its technical workforce from top-ranked computer science schools, “an imperfect but commonly used proxy for quality.”
For instance, roughly 20% of DoD tech workers between 1998 and 2021 held degrees from “ranked” universities, while 60% of tech workers at Big Tech companies in that same span came from those institutions.
“While none of these trends are necessarily problems in and of themselves, when taken together they can result in an environment that is not adequately equipped to recruit and retain talent, drive innovation and adopt emerging technologies across the enterprise,” wrote the researchers, who proposed four recommendations on how the defense community can improve in terms of finding the technical talent it needs.
- Collaborate and partner as needed with the commercial software sector, promoting sectoral crossover and industry exchanges
- Invest in the human capital of the existing talent pool
- Investigate how to encourage the DoD and the DIB to become more integrated with the larger U.S. technical workforce
- Cultivate a civil service-minded technical workforce
“Ultimately, the defense community has a sizable cadre of technical talent that must be appropriately identified and leveraged,” according to the authors. “Moreover, and equally important, the defense community has a critical role in growing and diversifying the domestic pipelines for future technical talent. Embracing both realities will go a long way to not only ensuring the DOD’s access to sufficient technical talent, but to positioning the United States for future global workforce competitiveness.”
15 September 2023
HR News Article