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Maintaining the Balance Between Manpower, Skill Levels, and PERSTEMPO
By Raymond E. Conley Albert A. Robbert Joseph G. Bolten Manuel Carrillo Hugh G. Massey
Rand CorporationCopyright © 2006 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.
This monograph examines the U.S. Air Force's military manpower, personnel, and training system in light of problems with personnel tempo (PERSTEMPO) among military personnel. It provides a description of the system and how it operates and a review of historical trends in manpower authorizations, manning levels, and workload. The purpose of the study has been to identify potential policy changes needed to achieve and maintain an appropriate balance between manpower authorizations, skill levels, and PERSTEMPO. In this report, we provide five recommendations to help achieve and maintain that balance. The overarching recommendation is that a more-holistic approach to the human capital system with appropriate feedback loops can help the Air Force to align its human capital much more closely with its mission needs.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s, many Air Force organizations were finding that their manpower authorizations and the number of assigned people were not adequate to sustain both deployment and in-garrison missions with normal levels of military manpower availability. During deployments, nondeploying personnel assigned to many functional areas within the wings and commands were severely stressed and could not perform theirnormal home-base missions without working well in excess of normal duty hours.
The stress the force experienced had several underlying causes. First, the Air Force had allowed its programmed force structure to exceed the capacity of its programmed end strength. Second, the manpower authorized to meet conventional peacetime needs may not be adequate for performing both normal installation missions and deployed missions. Third, even with adequate authorized spaces and full strength, there are not enough trained, skilled personnel in many specialties to fill higher-grade authorizations.
The Air Force has mounted two recent efforts to address this stress. Between April and July 2002, the Air Force conducted a large-scale review of active-duty and civilian positions to determine which positions directly contributed to its core competencies, with a view toward shifting military manpower resources away from requirements not associated with core competencies into critical, stressed career fields. As a follow-on to its Core Competency Review, the Air Force established the Human Capital Task Force in August 2002, giving it the tasks of focusing on implementing the resource shifts visualized in the Core Competency Review, developing other initiatives to help reduce personnel stress and solve the Air Force's critical manpower problems, and developing a comprehensive human capital plan to assist senior leaders in establishing and maintaining an appropriate long-term force under the expeditionary aerospace force (EAF) concept.
Research Purpose and Scope
In this research, we studied the organization and operation of the military manpower, personnel, and training system of the Air Force in an attempt to understand how the system functions, where it might require improvement, and how it could be modified to function more effectively in dealing with current and future problems. To understand how these issues have affected the commands and their units, we also examined selected wings and functional areas (specialties) retrospectively, covering fiscal years (FYs) 1994 through 2002, using various statistical and data analysis tools. Through this analysis, we attempted to identify specific trends and patterns in generating requirements, funding authorizations, and assigning personnel.
Our objective was to develop recommendations for policies and procedures to help achieve and maintain a better balance between funded manpower authorizations, assignments, skill levels, and PERSTEMPO.
Most of the analyses reported here focus on management of enlisted personnel. However, the data systems, models, and management processes we describe generally either include officers or are parallel to similar structures for managing officers. Although our focus is on the enlisted force, our conclusions, we believe, apply to both officer and enlisted components of human capital management.
The Air Force's larger human capital management system must also consider nonmilitary labor pools: civil service employees, various non-civil-service categories of civilian employees, and contractors. Compared to management of military personnel, management of these components of the workforce is very decentralized. While we will occasionally refer to these components, particularly in discussing solutions to military human capital management problems, analyzing how they are managed was beyond the scope of this study.
We began by collecting historical manpower, personnel, and workload data and performing regression analyses to identify trends and patterns. We then used Air Force manpower determinants, when available, to calculate estimates for manpower requirements for selected functions using what would have been planned workloads. This allowed us to evaluate whether or not the observed trends and patterns correlated with apparent need.
We then broadened our focus beyond manpower requirements to address the cumulative effect of the Air Force human resource management system on wing-level manpower, skill levels, and PERSTEMPO.
These analyses led to five conclusions:
A comprehensive, systems-oriented human capital perspective is essential. Many of the issues identified here appear rooted in the lack of strategic direction compounded by fragmented approaches to human capital management.
The Air Force's process for determining manpower requirements needs resuscitation. Our analyses raise serious questions about the adequacy of published manpower determinants, especially given the expeditionary nature of today's Air Force.
The Air Force needs one set of manpower books. It currently maintains at least three sets of manpower requirements. This contributed to discrepancies between the advertised number of people available for wing-level missions and the actual number available.
Skill-level imbalances affect productivity and contribute to workforce stress. If there are too many personnel in the lower three grades relative to the number of trainers, the on-the-job training (OJT) load can become a burden and interfere with other mission activities.
Poor internal feedback between components of the human capital management system impedes high system performance. During our interviews at both the Headquarters U.S. Air Force (HQ USAF) and MAJCOM levels, we found little evidence of feedback mechanisms between components of the system.
Organization of This Monograph
In Chapter Two, we present a graphic description of the Air Force human capital management system. It presents a high-level view of this system and discusses the interactions between the components, how information moves through the system, and how system control theory might be used to improve how the system functions. Chapter Three discusses major Air Force-wide trends that result from the outputs of the subsystems described in Chapter Two. It demonstrates how the outputs of the systemmay be used as sensors and actuators.
In Chapter Four, we take a closer look at the trends in selected specialties at specific wings over the FY 1994 through FY 2002 period. More specifically, we examine how manpower requirements, funded authorizations, and assignments have changed during that time. This chapter also looks at the issues of skill mix within the specialties and the utility of existing manpower standards for requirement determination.
Chapter Five discusses ongoing changes in Air Force human capital systems and their implications. It also proposes additional initiatives and, in particular, looks at how these changes could address some of the issues raised in the previous chapters.
Chapter Six presents our conclusions and recommendations. Finally, the appendix describes manpower trends for a selection of specialties.
Chapter TwoAir Force Manpower, Personnel, and Training System: An Ideal and an Overview
The knowledge, skills, abilities, and other competencies that comprise human capital are embodied in the Air Force's workforce. The Air Force's ability to capitalize on this critical asset is strongly influenced by its human resource management programs, practices, and policies. These, in turn, affect such important outcomes as how the Air Force accomplishes its goals, becomes more efficient, improves workforce commitment, and creates capacity for continual change.
In the Air Force, military human capital is managed within three well-defined manpower, personnel, and training subsystems. The manpower subsystem consists of the processes through which demand for human capital is defined and rationed; the personnel subsystem focuses on managing the supply of human capital; and the training subsystem focuses on development of human capital. Each subsystem has intricately related internal components and a nexus for transferring requisite data to the other subsystems. These subsystems are largely managed as individual stovepipes. As a consequence, few people have experience managing all three subsystems, and, concomitantly, little is known about the ways changes in one subsystem affect the others. Understanding each subsystem and its components is necessary but insufficient to explain the health of the overall human capital management system. Without knowledge of the related functions and their interactions, major positive contributions from one subsystem may be negated by deficiencies in others.
In this chapter, we describe the benefits and characteristics of a comprehensive, well-integrated system of systems for managing the Air Force's human capital. We then synoptically describe the current manpower, personnel, and training subsystems used to develop and control the content of the Air Force's enlisted manpower force. Since our research focuses on manpower requirements, we explore the three subsystems from a manpower perspective, seeking to understand where greater integration of the three subsystems could improve the manpower requirements process.
The Ideal: An Integrated System of Systems
A comprehensive, well-integrated system of systems might yield three potential benefits: a leveraging of interactions, a clarifying and synchronizing of roles, and better strategic alignment of human resource to organizational needs.
The various human capital subsystems interact with other systems, such as the Planning, Programming, and Budgeting System and Air Expeditionary Force (AEF) planning and deployment systems, at many different points, and multiple human resource components may intersect these systems at the same point. Adopting a broader, systems-oriented perspective should yield efficiencies by strengthening value-added intersections while eliminating efforts that are duplicative, ineffective, or irrelevant.
Also, leveraging information technology could provide a common suite of tools across human resource stovepipes and the various functional communities for collecting and using data and information. A common suite of tools would contribute to consistency in terminology and accounting of resources, facilitate configuration control and data dissemination, and simplify training for career-field managers. Further, existing information technology allows data to reside in a single repository, in which each data element exists only once, regardless of how many processes it serves. Lastly, the power of Web-based technology enables greater consolidation of data-intensive operations and, simultaneously, increases the Air Force-wide dissemination of appropriate human resource management information to career-field managers and decisionmakers.
Clarifying and Synchronizing Roles
Capitalizing on synergy and leveraging information technology across human resource components and the functional communities should streamline processes and, thereby, offer potential to shorten the time from a strategy's conception to its execution. Concomitant with streamlining processes should be clarification of roles and synchronization of the human capital components (traditional ones and those embedded in functional communities). Three areas are of particular concern. One is a controller-a mechanism that provides direction, measures progress, and calibrates inputs based on feedback. The trends discussed in Chapters Three and Four suggest that this role is not adequately performed. In this context, the human resource controller-the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs (SAF/ MR) and the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (AF/A1)-would set the direction for Air Force-wide human resource strategies, lead implementation of Air Force-wide human capital plans, and oversee progress. Armed with appropriate models and tools, SAF/MR and AF/A1 would continually scan the environment, identifying and analyzing external and internal human capital opportunities and threats that may be crucial to Air Force success. They would establish clear strategic visions and serve as directional beacons defining which opportunities should be explored and which should be avoided. The objective is to ensure greater strategic control and increased consistency across functional communities and major commands (MAJCOMs).
Another area relates to the roles of human resource specialists and career-field managers. Many human resource activities, such as leading efforts to define requirements and training needs, are performed by career-field managers. Clarifying and synchronizing these roles, responsibilities, relationships, and areas of contribution would help establish expectations and accountability. Many back-office tasks, such as data collection and analysis, could be consolidated and performed by specialists, freeing career-field managers to devote more time to resolving the underlying strategic and operational issues. Given the right training, tools, and resource flexibilities, human resource specialists could work with the functional communities and commanders to develop comprehensive strategies to shape the workforce and meet Air Force goals.
A third area relates to human capital stewardship. Lengnick-Hall and Lengnick-Hall (2002, p. 33) observed that the "role of human capital steward requires accumulating, concentrating, conserving, complementing, and recovering the collective knowledge, skills, and abilities within an organization." They stressed that stewardship implies guiding the organization without dominating it. To perform this role effectively, human resource managers would need macro-level models and tools to provide information on how, when, and where to buy, build, borrow, bounce, or bind human resources (Ulrich, 1999, pp. 126-138).
Better Strategic Alignment
Several studies underscore that, for human resources legitimately to be considered a strategic asset, the human resource architecture should be aligned with the organization's mission, goals, and objectives and integrated into the organization's strategic plans, performance plans, and budgets. Strategic alignment is a balancing act that involves setting a direction, linking processes and systems, and making the adjustments needed to achieve the organization's current and future missions in a dynamic environment.
The alignment occurs in two dimensions. Horizontal alignment, from a human capital perspective, suggests that human resource professionals are working in concert with senior leaders and managers to develop, implement, and assess the human capital policies and procedures needed to achieve the organization's shared vision and most important objectives. Vertical alignment is about rapidly and effectively deploying the human capital strategy throughout the organization. Vertical alignment suggests the people understand organization-wide goals and how their roles, systems, and processes contribute to achieving the mission and objectives. Achieving strategic alignment implies that all activities are connected in a manner that allows them to complement each other and contribute to achieving the organization's overarching mission, goals, and objectives.
Excerpted from Maintaining the Balance Between Manpower, Skill Levels, and PERSTEMPO by Raymond E. Conley Albert A. Robbert Joseph G. Bolten Manuel Carrillo Hugh G. Massey Copyright © 2006 by RAND Corporation . Excerpted by permission.
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