The Department of Defense (DoD) on Thursday rolled out a new cyber workforce plan which takes aim at the department’s workforce retention challenge – the task now is to effectively implement the enterprise-wide plan.

The Cyber Workforce Strategy, which extends to 2027, outlines four human capital pillars – identifying workforce requirements, recruiting talent, developing talent to meet mission requirements, and retaining talent.

According to DoD officials, these pillars provide the foundation and set a unified direction to accomplish the goals outlined in the strategy:

  • Execute consistent capability assessment and analysis processes to stay ahead of force needs;
  • Establish an enterprise-wide talent management program to better align force capabilities with current and future requirements;
  • Facilitate a cultural shift to optimize department-wide personnel management activities; and
  • Foster collaboration and partnerships to enhance capability development, operational effectiveness, and career-broadening experience.

One of the main goals of the strategy is to close the DoD’s workforce development gaps and retain its cyber talent. The Pentagon’s cyber workforce spans at least 150,000 military and civilian positions, but currently suffers from a 25 percent vacancy rate.

The strategy notes that the cyber talent pipeline is still limited, and the DoD must expand the workforce with diverse roles. Therefore, the new strategy calls for an enterprise-wide talent management program to unify the workforce and shift how it attracts talent to include previously “untapped or under-represented sources of talent.”

The strategy also puts significant focus on building partnerships between industry and DoD by piloting an “apprenticeship program to develop dedicated employment exchanges with the private sector,” which in turn maintains the relationships with DoD personnel who might leave the private sector and then want to come back to the Pentagon.

Mark Gorak, principal director for resources and analysis in DoD’s chief information officer organization, told reporters during a virtual press briefing on Thursday that because of the size and importance of that challenge, the department must be bold in its efforts to develop the cyber workforce.

According to Gorak, the DoD “must continue to mature and measure these initiatives to advance the agility and capability of the cyber workforce across the DoD enterprise, at the component level and within individual commands.”

“There must be a cultural shift in the department in how we acquire talent and how we manage it … we must fundamentally change how we manage that talent and look at it from an enterprise. The foundation for that is being able to identify that workforce,” Gorak said.

The strategy also instructs the department to establish a Cyber Workforce Development Fund to accelerate its implementation and review existing authorities to attract a broader pool of talent.

DoD is now in the process of implementing the efforts laid out within the new strategy, and a separate implementation plan will be released soon. The implementation plan will include a list of activities the DoD will pursue over a multi-year period, along with key performance indicators to monitor and assess the impact of Cyber Workforce Strategy activities.

In addition, the strategy will enable the DoD to implement resource workforce management and development initiatives. One of the main tools in this effort is the DoD’s existing cyber workforce framework, which classifies employees according to the actual work they do rather than by their job title.

The framework previously identified 54 separate work roles, but the count is now up to 72 after the department incorporated personnel who focus on AI, data, and software-related work.

“The framework is adaptive, flexible, and responsive to the workforce,” said Gorak, in a separate press statement. “So not only did we add those work roles, and that knowledge, skills, and abilities, but we have also changed several of the ones we had to remain current. So, with that framework, we must have specific targets and clearly show where we have shortages. We’re also working with the Office of the National Cyber Director and their plans for how they’re doing this for the rest of the federal government.”

DoD has also started implementing “new authorities for the workforce to provide flexibility in the management and maturity of current and future workforce members,” the strategy states.

“We are looking at every aspect of the cyber employee’s lifecycle to ensure we are not only finding and hiring a diverse group of skilled cyber specialists but also developing the tools, resources, and partnerships required to continue to grow these individuals professionally,” said Patrick Johnson, director for the Pentagon’s Workforce Innovation Directorate (WID).

In addition to the Cyber Workforce Strategy, WID is currently implementing several initiatives that support the broader talent management lifecycle for the DoD’s cyber workforce, including the recently published DoD Manual 8140.03.

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Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez
Lisbeth Perez is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.