Considerations for the Replacement Workforce

April 10, 2017

Throughout my naval career and now that I have left the service, numerous examples have made abundantly clear the importance of having a satisfying career and working in a diverse workforce. I had an opportunity to share those lessons at the National Naval Officers Association (NNOA) national conference last summer. The NNOA was formed to help increase diversity in the sea services through recruitment, retention, and professional development. The theme of my talk was “Our Replacement Workforce—Reaching out to the Next Generation.” With the ever-evolving professional environment, people need to make the wisest possible choices to ensure they are able to make the most of their working years. And, this is true both in the military and as a civilian. Here are four things to consider.

Fewer People Needed to Do the Work

When I joined the United States Navy, my ship was the USS Long Beach (CGN 9). It was a nuclear cruiser with a crew of nearly 1,000 sailors (officers and enlisted). Now, some thirty years later, on October 15, 2016, the Navy commissioned a destroyer that is similar in size and capability called the USS Zumwalt (DDG1000) of which LMI is a Special Operations-level sponsor for its commissioning. Zumwalt has less than 150 sailors in her crew.  

Long Beach required at least 11 people on watch at any given time while Zumwalt will only require around three or four. Cameras have replaced human beings as lookouts. Engineering and navigation controls have been combined. Specialists are trained on-shore in high-fidelity trainers rather than on the ship. Fewer people on the ship means less food to prepare, less laundry to do, etc. Zumwalt is not even painted, so there is less topside maintenance. In every area, work has been streamlined and automated. 

And, this is not just happening in the Navy. There is more and more talk of a “soldierless Army.” All these trends impact our Navy and society as a whole. In the Navy, even areas that were white-collar work are less manpower intensive.

What’s Hot and What’s Not in Future Career Areas

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most new jobs will be in healthcare and technical spaces. This should be no surprise to anyone given the changes in our demographics and advances in technology. Overall, many employers I have talked to have prioritized the same key skill groups: 

  • strong written and verbal skills
  • technical skills
  • project management
  • math aptitude
  • research skills.

As I mentor young men and women who are considering their career choices (both in and out of uniform), I make sure they know the bigger picture in terms of long-term career opportunities. They need to think about what training to seek in the Navy so they have a good career options after the Navy. 

It’s easy to get comfortable and remain in a single career track. When I was in college, I worked a summer at a warehouse making $17 per hour. The manager liked me and he said, “Hey why don’t you quit college and come to work here? You are not going to get that much money coming out of college.” In 1978, $17 per hour was a great wage but if I had done that, my career options would have been very narrow.

Finding Your Happy Place

When I graduated from James Madison in 1981, I worked at a business consulting firm in northern Virginia. They paid me a decent wage. I got to wear nice clothes and work in air conditioning. But I didn’t know what the heck I was doing. I didn’t care about the work I was doing. I was not happy. That’s when I joined the Navy.

Joining the Navy required a small pay cut, but I felt what I was doing was important. I joined the Navy to see the world. I also felt like I was growing with the training that was provided. Building the right career is a balance between meaning, mastery, and money. The job must feel meaningful. You must feel you are growing. The compensation must be enough that it feels satisfying. 

Wisdom from My Mentors

I have often told my shipmates, “Live your life the way you navigate your ship.” Don’t depend on a single point of reference. You could be anywhere along that line and run until shoal water. Two points is better, but doesn’t give you much confidence in the accuracy of your position. It’s best to have a three-point fix. Get your information from three different sources. From that, you’ll know pretty much where you are. The same goes with mentors in life. One person’s opinion may be good or bad but it’s something. With two people, you can compare and contrast. With three, you can have a good idea of where you stand. Mentors open your aperture to what is possible in your career. They will encourage you to build the skills that are most needed in the marketplace, and not just the skills your current employer is rewarding. 

I have tried to surround myself with mentors from different walks of life and experiences. I currently have five mentors. Some have known me for 30 years. And, my mentors tend to change over time as my life and work situation changes. 


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