Like other sectors in an ever-changing economy, the U.S. Army faces challenges in recruiting highly skilled talent, especially in artificial intelligence and autonomous systems.
Those challenges are evident in divisions such as the 75th Innovation Command, a separate command of the U.S. Army Reserve and headquartered in Houston, Texas.
In the hunt for highly skilled recruits, the 75th Innovation Command is competing against the private sector for candidates in a limited talent pool, as well as a lack of awareness about IT opportunities in the military, said Maj. Gen. Richard Staats, the 75th Innovation Command Commanding General.
“A lot of people in tech fields don’t realize the military needs and values highly competitive tech personnel,” said Staats, who participated in a recent panel discussion about how the Army can compete for talent in AI and autonomous systems.
The panel was part of the Army Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence Symposium and Exposition, which was held November 20-21 at the TCF Center in Detroit. Hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army, the two-day event drew more than 750 participants and exhibitors for interactive technical education, product demos and networking.
Also serving on the panel were representatives from other Army divisions, including the U.S. Army Ground Combat Vehicle Center, U.S. Army Special Operations Command and Center for the Army Profession and Leadership. The sole non-military member of the panel was William Treseder, senior vice president for BMNT Partners, a California-based consulting firm.
Despite challenges, the Army can both recruit and retain talented people in IT jobs, Staats said. Those prospects, he said, want purpose, autonomy and the ability to become experts. He’s been able to find 50 experts to work for his command with a 1.5 percent turnover rate. That success comes, in part, because of the military work allows them to work more independently than in the private sector.
“A lot of people want to work for something that has a higher purpose than themselves,” he said. “The Army and the Department of Defense are all about that.”
Sometimes non-traditional recruiting efforts are needed, too. Staats, whose background is in game design, frequently shows up at game community events and talks about the 75th Innovation Command.
“There’s a lot of really motivated, highly creative and tech savvy people at these events,” Staats said. “I can talk the language with them and make that instant connection. They have no idea about the needs we have. It’s another way of reaching people and building awareness.”
Treseder, who described BMNT Partners as specializing in helping government agencies innovate, also suggested non-traditional approaches to tapping IT talent. He said there are other options to harness technical talents without “slapping uniforms on everyone.”
Many people who have carved out successful careers in IT or other fields often want to give back, to leave some sort of legacy. They can easily be sought out by the military as world-class experts from Silicon Valley or elsewhere and be engaged for short periods of time to unlock meaningful solutions to issues or challenges.
“Do we need to be trying to get everyone in the military or do we need other ways of thinking to tap into the really talented people in this country?” he said. “You don’t have to join the military to serve our country. There’s more than one way to serve our country.”