The military is exploring changes to the officer promotion system. The proposed changes will make the rank promotion system more flexible to allow for expanded opportunities. The Department of Defense is also looking at how to recruit and retain the best talent, especially when competing with lucrative private sector jobs in high-demand fields. One of the ways that they are considering is to allow experts in these fields to join at a higher rank.
Military Times recently reported on a statement that Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer made earlier in August about allowing experts, specifically in cyber, to join at O-4 or O-5.
In his statement, he talked about “the ability—when we talk about cyber—to bring people in and say, much like during World War II, ‘You are an amazing expert, you can come in as an O-4 or O-5.’”
Currently, all newly commissioned officers start as O-1s, ensigns in the Navy, or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Promotion to O-2 typically occurs after around two years, with promotion to O-3 after another two years of experience. Promotion is based on both time and performance. While promotion rates vary slightly between services and specialties, they are mostly standard and do not currently allow for very much flexibility.
The new promotion system would allow experts who work best in their current position to remain at that rank, rather than be forced through a promotion pipeline. On the other side, stellar performers who would be a greater asset in higher leadership roles would have the opportunity to promote faster.
A fluid work pipeline would also serve as a retention tool, says Spencer. He told Military Times of the need for fresher opportunities for experts in fields like cyber for military personnel to move between military service and the private sector. When development and advances in technology are occurring at lightning speed, staying up-to-date on those advancements is key to having a professionally competent fighting force.
But, just like most things in a large organization like the military, it will take time to consider and successfully implement all of the proposed changes.
“We’re beginning to get some amazing authorities that they’re giving us,” said Spencer. “But I think you’re going to have to see us grow into these authorities.”
The new joining point for experts could also apply to fields such as medical or aviation, reported Military Times. There is currently a system set up for officers in the Medical Corps to join prior to completing medical school or after already practicing. Their rank upon joining is based on experience. According to the Department of Defense’s “Medicine + the Military” site, those who join during medical school will be promoted to O-3 upon graduation, while those who are already licensed will typically join as O-3s or O-4s.
“When you apply to join the military, a professional review board will evaluate your work experience and prior service, if any,” says the site. “Once your rank is determined, it must be approved by Congress or the Secretary of Defense.”
The military is making a strong effort to both recruit and retain the best experts in the industries of the future. Offering a higher rank, with additional responsibility and compensation, may be just what the military needs to attract industry leaders to a career of military service. Including the opportunity to move between the military and private sectors while honing skills is an added incentive that may benefit the military as well.
The Department of Defense still has a lot of exploration and planning to do, but that these types of flexible options are even being discussed points to a new future for personnel incentives in the military.