Army Struggles with Re-enlistment of Cyber Talent

Soldiers with U.S. Army Cyber Command's 780th Military Intelligence Brigade take part in network defense training. (Photo: Tina Miles, Army.mil)

The Army’s cyber soldiers in the 17C military occupational specialty are highly likely to stay on for their entire first term of service, but they are far less likely to re-enlist after the first term, according to a recent RAND Corp. study.

“Given the very long training pipeline and the substantial costs associated with training a 17C soldier, the Army needs to understand as much as possible about the likely continuation rates to ensure there is sufficient return on its training investment,” the study said. “Soldiers who qualify for 17C are more likely than others to remain in the Army for at least 72 months; however, they also appear to be somewhat less likely to re-enlist.”

The study found that while pay for a non-college educated cyber specialist is fairly equal in the military versus the private sector, the private sector can often have the perception of paying more, and positions like information security specialists have a particularly strong draw for Army veterans.

“It is at this point of re-enlistment that many in Army senior leadership fear the opportunities afforded by the private sector are likely to lure talented cyber specialists away from military service,” the study said. “Given that military pay for soldiers near the end of their first term is comparable with the median pay of likely jobs in the civilian sector, retention tools like selective re-enlistment bonuses (SRBs) and special pay can go a long way toward tipping the scales in favor of staying in the Army.”

Despite this pay parity, the study suggested keeping a close eye on any changes in private sector compensation for these positions.

“The existing research strongly suggests that tracking civilian compensation and hiring will play an important role in managing Army cyber occupations,” the study said. “If civilian compensation or the value of Army-provided training or soldiers’ experiences in Army cyber occupations change, then adjustments may be required to manage these occupations in the most effective manner possible.”

The study also suggested continuing longer first terms in 17C service, as enlisting soldiers are not very sensitive to long initial contracts.

“Continuation rates are strongly tied to the length of initial obligation, and the data suggest that the Army should retain its long initial obligation requirements for 17C for the foreseeable future,” the study said.

Despite these low re-enlistment rates, the study found that, based on requirements for 17C service, the Army potentially has more than enough personnel to fill all 17C positions. This potential number, however, does not account for soldiers who might not wish to work in the cyber field or go through the necessary clearance process.

“Ongoing analyses should include careful tracking of successful training completion and retention rates, as well as civilian pay and demand for information security analysts in the civilian sector,” the report said.  “This information will play an important role in managing this occupation.”

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