NetCentrics’ CEO Kenny Cushing Joins Panel at 2023 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition

Written October 16th, 2023
Permeability and Adaptability: Retention and Flexibility in the Armed Forces

The greatest challenge facing the armed forces in the United States is one of retention: how to we attract, and keep, individuals with vital skillsets to affect the greatest readiness possible? Following an excellent panel on the topic with various military and civilian leaders from the Department of Defense, which included our own CEO, Kenneth Cushing, a host of crucial insights on the topic and potential solutions were apparent. When it comes to career choices and job transitions, one concept stands out as a critical factor in the success of individuals moving from military service to the civilian sector and back again – permeability. It’s a term that goes beyond the conventional understanding of job retention and asks us to consider how individuals can expose themselves to new experiences, cultivate familiarity with various industries, and embrace a career path filled with adaptability and change.

A Journey from Military to Civilian and Back Again

Military service has long been recognized as a training ground for discipline, leadership, and resilience. Yet, the transition from a military career to a civilian one is a significant challenge that many veterans face. The central question that arises is, “How can military experience at a mid-grade level translate into a successful civilian career?”  To answer this, we must consider the concept of permeability.

Permeability, in this context, refers to the ability of an individual to transition seamlessly between different career paths. Military service offers an excellent environment to develop this trait. The exposure to diverse challenges, leadership roles, and constantly evolving scenarios equips service members with the skills needed to adapt to civilian life. “Being more permeable will help us with recruiting”, said Brynt Parmeter, DoD Chief Talent Management Officer, “if our military is this pen, and we’ve sold this pen for 50 years, then we haven’t changed our product for 50 years, essentially.” Clearly, new ideas are needed.

The Average Career: Retention vs. Adaptation

One of the key aspects to explore is the idea of retention in the civilian workforce. How long should a person stay in a particular job, and how often should they switch corporations or industries? These questions are especially relevant today, given the rapidly changing job market and the prevalence of technological advancements.

Consider the traditional model of career retention where individuals may work for the same company for decades. Such continuity is rare in today’s world, where corporations might be traded for the Air Force, Walmart, or even PayPal, only to return to the original field. The dynamics of career progression have changed, and the ability to permeate in and out of different roles is invaluable and should be applied more thoroughly in the armed forces.

Military Service: A Model of Permeability

The military’s role in shaping permeability cannot be overstated. The armed forces provide a unique platform for individuals to gain exposure to diverse roles, responsibilities, and industries. Service members who navigate through the ranks develop a versatile skill set, which can prove invaluable in civilian careers. Yet, we should be thinking about the reverse as well: how do we attract and keep civilians with the vital, diverse skillsets that will help us stay ahead of coming threats? “So how do we solve this problem?” said Kenny Cushing, “Here’s my vision statement: we have to reframe our nation’s vision and it starts with inspiring and energizing the concept of service to the nation.”

Intriguingly, the military structure itself has evolved over time. While the typical career span within the military can range from four to twenty years, technology advances at a rapid pace, with changes occurring every quarter. This highlights the need for a talent strategy that prioritizes adaptability and constant learning, which is a challenge for an organization that, by design, needs to be stable.

History of Transition: The Birth of the All-Volunteer Force

The idea of permeability within the military’s ranks is not a new one. In the 1960s, as the United States was grappling with its involvement in the Vietnam War, a significant shift occurred. The draft was abolished, and the concept of the all-volunteer force was introduced.

This transition was no accident; it was the result of careful planning and analysis. The James Commission played a pivotal role in establishing the standards and models that still guide military personnel management today. The move to an all-volunteer force was not merely an effort to stand up against the draft; it was a strategic shift towards building a more adaptable and versatile military in that era. In the same spirit, we must be willing to try something new again, just as we did in the past. “When we rethink this word, integration, we can’t think of homogenization” said Maj. Gen. Simon Graham, Director of the British Army Reserves. A one-size-fits all approach will not work.

Permeability as the Solution to Retention Problems in the Armed Forces

The all-volunteer force model teaches us a valuable lesson. To adapt to an ever-changing world, organizations, both military and civilian, must prioritize permeability over rigid retention. Retaining employees, whether in the military or the corporate sector, cannot solve problems by itself. It’s about enabling individuals to navigate various roles and industries successfully.

Think of it as a marketplace with one actor – the individual. In this marketplace, the ability to transition, adapt, and evolve is a powerful asset. Permeability allows individuals to solve complex challenges, explore new opportunities, and continue their growth throughout their careers.

Permeability is not just a buzzword but a concept that has the potential to reshape the way we view career transitions, especially when transitioning from the military to the civilian sector and vice versa. Military service, with its ever-evolving challenges and dynamic structure, equips individuals with the skills needed to thrive in a fast-paced and uncertain job market. But we need to retain these skills in the armed forces to stay ahead of potential threats. As the world continues to change at an unprecedented rate, our ability to adapt and permeate between different roles and industries will be the key to long-term success in the armed forces. The lessons learned from the history of the all-volunteer force offer valuable insights into how we can shape our careers and workplaces to thrive in an environment characterized by perpetual change and innovation.

Permeability is not just a choice; it is a necessity in today’s military landscape.

Written by Lee Murphy, Product Marketing Manager