U.S. Navy: Navigating Technology Careers

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To fight in modern wars effectively, the U.S. Navy has adopted a concept called ForceNet as its operational doctrine. This theory was codified following years of experience and research and is designed to put the concept of network-centric warfare into practice when facing an enemy in any combat setting. The Chief of Naval Operations’ Strategic Studies Group formally defined ForceNet as “the operational construct and architectural framework for naval warfare in the information age that integrates warriors, sensors, networks, command and control, platforms and weapons into a networked, distributed combat force that is scalable across all levels of conflict from seabed to space and sea to land.”

Given the nature of this explanation, it’s no surprise that IT professionals—both in and out of uniform—are a key component of this strategy. Indeed, the Navy’s employment model can be divided into civilian and military groupings. The category that various naval personnel fall into determines what they learn, what they earn and how they’ll advance in the organization, said Terry Halvorsen, executive director of the Naval Education and Training Command/Manpower, Personnel, Training & Education, Echelon II.

For civilians, the on-boarding process is not unlike what IT professionals might expect from any other company. A certain level of comprehension of the technology related to a given position is expected from incoming staff, which is evaluated in part through standard indicators such as certification, education and experience. “When I hire a civilian, I’m really hiring a professional for that job. I am not training them for the job. I’d train them for the specifics,” Halvorsen said. “Let’s say I hire a networking professional. I may have to give them some training on the specifics about our networks, but I’m not teaching them how to fix networks. They already know how to maintain them and are aware of the security aspects. We use some of the same qualifications as the private sector. We’ll look at their certifications, degrees, experience, things like that. In certain positions, we require the more common (certifications). It depends on the position. If I’m going to put you in an information security role, then I’m going to require that you be information-security-certified. If I put you in a role where you are going to be a Microsoft troubleshooter, then I’m going to require that you be Microsoft-certified.”

IT certifications actually play a significant part in developing military personnel’s technical capabilities as well. Many of the credentials out there align to the Navy’s IT skill requirements and thus are used to assess sailors. Although its military workforce has been able to get funding for certification training and exams through the GI Bill, legislation was recently passed that permitted the Navy to finance sailors’ IT credentials directly, provided that those certifications pertain to particular job roles. “That program just started this year,” Halvorsen said. “As we looked at that curriculum, a lot of the requirements that we have are spelled out in the (CompTIA) A+ certification, and pieces of Microsoft and some of the other commercial certifications. So what we’ve done is said, ‘If our guys have to take that training, why can’t we pay for them to take the test?’ We were able to get legislation that was in this year’s defense bill that actually gives us the authority to pay for civilian certifications that are related to your Navy job. It’s part of the actual defense department training legislation and appropriations bill.”

Also, certifications have been used to fulfill training directives that come straight from the top, he said. “There was a Secretary of Defense mandate this year that we certify people in information assurance across the Department of Defense. There are great civilian programs for that, and instead of developing our own training, what we’re doing is using the civilian credentialing. Approximately 2,000 information assurance credentials will be issued in the Navy this fiscal year.”

IT professionals must go beyond sheer technical expertise to advance in the Navy. The sailors who serve in IT-intensive roles within the Navy have to be proficient with technology, but they also must be prepared for the martial culture of the service. “Obviously, we have to train the military IT professional in all of the other aspects of being in the military. They need to know what it means to be a warrior. We have to train the military IT (personnel) on the warrior ethos, and they must know all of the other general courtesies, knowledge and all of the other things that are important to being in the military. We don’t have pure military technicians. We certainly have an emphasis on the technical side, but they must be complete sailors and fit into the ethos of our military structure.”

This stance entails an intense focus on the sailors’ at-sea performance, he added. “In our business, that’s where the rubber meets the road. We have an evaluation system that evaluates them on how well they do technically. We also have, within the training command, feedback systems that let us know if not specifically how the individual is doing, then how well the group is doing as a whole in their jobs. We have done extensive job-task analyses that let us break work down into what we call ‘skill objects,’ so we can have a pretty granular look at what the work is. We’ve also broken the work down into a hierarchy where we have a truly apprentice/journeyman/master approach. We also train the sailors on the ‘Why?’ Why is it important that networks work this way? They need to know how the networks support warfare. We teach how what we’re doing relates and links to ForceNet and how the commanders’ battle rhythm gets supported via ForceNet and the whole IT effort.”

Additionally, both civilian and military staff must possess leadership skills or acquire them during their tenure in the Navy. “(IT professionals) have to do the same things that it takes to advance as everybody else in the military,” Halvorsen said. “We expect our IT professionals, as they move forward, to excel in the roles of leaders and teachers. They also have to look at their assignments. If you want to move up in the military you have to go after some of the more challenging assignments. That can mean—and generally does mean—you’ve got to look at your at-sea assignments and take some of those really hard at-sea jobs. When you’re ashore, you definitely want to look into getting into the sites where we have a lot of network management.

“On the civilian side, there are a couple of other things you have to consider,” he added. “If you want to move up as an IT professional, you still have to get leadership and management (skills). As you move up, not only are we asking you to do your technical job, but we’re also asking you to manage people and money. Like with any corporation, as you move up in the ranks there’s less emphasis on the technical part of your job, and you have to start blending the technical skills with the ability to manage people and other resources. The other thing in the civilian sector is that you’ve got to be mobile. You have to be willing to go where the job is and where the promotions are.”

There are many advantages for IT professionals who opt for a career in the Navy, whether they go the civilian or military route. Halvorsen said the service runs a benefits and incentives package for the former group that resembles what one might expect to find in the private sector. For military personnel, naval careers offer many opportunities to build up technical knowledge and experience. “One of the questions we get a lot is, ‘If I stay with the Navy, how marketable will I be when I get out?’ One of the things that becomes clear to sailors is that if they can spend 20 years with the Navy getting great experience and get a lot of civilian certificat

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