The Marine Corps plans on using big data to map out careers and, like a “FedEx” package, deliver Marines with needed skills.
Technology, mixed with user friendly applications, also will be used to give Marines more insight and transparency in their careers.
“If I have a young man or woman that’s going to show up in the Marine Corps, why can’t I work backward?” Lt. Gen. David Ottignon, the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve, asked Nov. 22.
“If I know I need him to be in this unit, at this particular date, like a package, why can’t I walk all the way back … through recruit training and all those stuff that we make them do in combat training, and their schools training, and all the way back to their little town in Iowa … because I’ve maximized the entire chain of what I can predict this individual needs to be a unit,” Ottignon said, comparing the Marine Corps’ future talent management system to FedEx.
Ottignon is tasked with implementing Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger’s new talent management system that the Corps hopes will produce an older, more mature and better trained force.
To do that the Marine Corps hopes to use data to guide Marines into jobs where they will excel and will ensure they hit all the training, education and assignment milestones needed to have a long-lasting career.
Choosing the right job
On the enlisted side, prospective new Marines are currently given a list of contracts they qualify for primarily based on armed services vocational aptitude battery, or ASVAB, scores.
Those contracts cover an umbrella of jobs that may be vaguely related. From there, what job that Marine gets is based entirely on what the Corps needs when he or she ships to boot camp.
But, in 2022, the Marine Corps will start giving prospective Marines a wider variety of tests in an attempt to improve the Corps’ ability to match skills with the actual jobs they want.
The test system is known as the Marine Corps occupational specialty matching tool.
The Corps hopes the system is fully operational by 2024, Maj. Bob Jankowski, with Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told reporters Nov. 22.
“Better aligning Marines to an (military occupational specialty) that aligns with both their interests and abilities will have positive impacts on retention,” Jankowski said.
The Marine Corps is still fine-tuning what the new process will look like, said Maj. Jason Oldenkamp, with Marine Corps Recruiting Command.
“Moving forward the (Marine Corps occupational specialty matching tool) ideally it’s going to help identify those abilities, talents, desires of the applicant that maybe gets more of a narrow (military occupational specialty) or just better identifies the actual path,” Oldenkamp said.
A hybrid method will likely be used in the future, Maj. Gen. Jason Bohm, the commander of Marine Corps Recruiting Command, thinks, one that sees some Marines sign umbrella contracts while others sign job-specific ones.
The extra tests will also be used to ideally better predict who will have a successful career and who may not make it through their first enlistment, which will allow the Marine Corps to be more selective about who actually gets to stand on the recruit depot yellow footprints.
The extra tests will be applied to the officer side as well.
Officers currently rank job preferences as they graduate from The Basic School and are assigned to those jobs based on their class ranking, preference ranking and the needs of the Marine Corps.
When these tests are implemented, the new officers will have a chance to discuss the results to ensure they are ranking their preferences based on their strengths and desires.
“We’re actually given them an opportunity to have a best fit for them in the assignment, where they would be happier,” Bohm said. “And if you’re happier in your assignment, not just doing what dad told you to do, or because you didn’t know any better, but something you’re actually best suited for and would be happier doing that’s going to help our retention efforts as well.”
Rest of the career
The Corps will track 14,000 data points for each Marine in the force, said Paul Bennet, a civilian who provides oversight to the Marine Corps technology development.
The data is available to every force commander who can see on an almost day-by-day basis what skills they have and where the Marines in their unit may be falling behind.
The Corps as a whole will use that data to better understand the force and ensure that it is developing Marines with the skills needed decades into the future, Ottignon said.
One such method is the retention prediction network, which is supposed to track Marines at different career milestones and predict the likeliness of that Marine successfully completing an assignment.
The project was launched in 2018 and sees the Corps working with Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Jankowski said.
The extra information will allow Marine officers to choose between a command track and a staff officer track.
“That is completely different from what we have done for decades in the Marine Corps, which said, ‘in order for you to be a successful staff officer, you needed to be a commander,’” Ottignon said.
“That will be a cultural shift to have that choice,” he added.
The Corps is still determining exactly when in an officer’s career he or she will be provided the choice to follow a staff career or a command career.
Alongside that data collection, the Corps says it will run tests to ensure biases are not making it into the system and promoting a force that is too similar in terms of experience and thought.
“If the model predicts that one demographic group is going to be successful, less frequently than a different demographic group, but that doesn’t match reality, then we dig into the model and try to figure out why those predictions are happening before we put anything into place,” Jankowski said.
The Corps has identified diversity of thought and experience as key to making the force better at creative decision-making and more lethal on the battlefield.
“It is all about lethality and warfighting,” Brig. Gen. A.T. Williamson, director of Manpower, Plans and Policy said in August at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Apace 2021 conference in National Harbor, Maryland.
“It’s challenging; it is full of problem sets that one group — that one team — are not going to be able to solve alone,” he said. “We need to be able to open up the diversity of thought, of experience, of background, to try and attract people who are going to help us solve those very complex problems.”
The Corps is also developing applications that will allow every Marine to have more access to that data, given them increased transparency about their career.
Currently Marines can look at their own junior enlisted performance evaluation system scores that show where they rank among their peers in three different areas of performance.
Eventually Marines will be able to view open assignments that they will be able to apply for within a talent marketplace, Berger’s Talent Management 2030 said.
“The visibility of what’s going to be available and the interaction that commands will actually be able to input as well … it’ll be a lot more transparent,” Col. Ginger Beals, the Marine in charge of all officer assignments, told Marine Corps Times.