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Research Questions

  1. What can the Air Force learn from higher education institutions about how they right-size their instructor corps that might be applicable to its nonrated technical training pipeline?
  2. What are the best practices associated with supply chain management?
  3. What are the possible approaches for developing a flexible instructor pool?

In fiscal year 2016, RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) conducted a study for the Air Force Air Education and Training Command (AETC) of inefficiencies in the nonrated technical training pipeline. The goal of this research was to identify ways to improve the efficiency and responsiveness of the Air Force's technical training enterprise for both officers and enlisted personnel. That study identified many opportunities to improve the technical training planning process, resource allocation process, and the flow of students through the technical training pipeline.

As a follow-on to that effort, AETC asked PAF to look outside the Air Force for insights and best practices upon which they could draw. AETC identified three particular topics of interest: (1) how colleges and universities right-size their instructor corps in the face of fluctuations in enrollments and demands for coursework, (2) best practices associated with supply chain management, and (3) approaches for developing a flexible instructor pool.

At the conclusion of their research, the authors identified common threads that emerged from what might appear to be rather disparate topics. One is the realization that there is no one-size-fits-all model that will work AETC-wide to achieve more-efficient operations. Instead, these concepts and the resource decisions that they drive are best applied to the individual training pipelines for each Air Force specialty. The second thread is that flexibility across the training pipeline is the key to improving planning and resource efficiency.

Key Findings

Higher education faces many of the same challenges as the Air Force's technical training enterprise; some practices from higher education possibly hold promise for the Air Force

  • Higher education institutions have advantages over AETC in terms of planning for and providing education, specifically their ability to rapidly flex when demands change and to more readily adopt new methods of planning and instruction.
  • Higher education institutions can take advantage of outside expertise by outsourcing parts of their registrar functions and can quickly adopt the latest technological advances to enhance the training and planning processes.
  • Although differences exist between colleges and universities and the Air Force's training mission, AETC may benefit from adopting or adapting some of the practices currently being employed in postsecondary education.

The analogy between commercial supply chains and the "production" of trained airmen is imperfect

  • The Air Force's nonrated technical training process can be seen as two supply chains that have different underlying production systems: a supply chain for creating instructors and a supply chain for creating trained airmen.
  • Many supply chain management principles have direct application to managing technical training, particularly those pertaining to resourcing strategies.

A flexible instructor pool is a new approach to instructor resourcing that would enable AETC to quickly react to changing student requirements

  • Such a pool would draw on a mix of active duty, reserve component, civilians, contractors, and adjunct instructors⁠—options that could be used alone or in combinations to expand instructor capacity, as needed to respond to changes in demand.


  • AETC could borrow from higher education's planning and resources approaches by outsourcing or contracting for improved software for administrative functions, improving planning with modeling and improved communication, and developing an adjunct-type model for the instructor corps.
  • To use instructional approaches from higher education, AETC can explore the use of online or blended learning for initial skills training and evaluate the use of competency-based learning.
  • Drawing on best practices in supply chain management, AETC could develop a capacity-visibility capability, in which estimates are accurate, updated regularly, and include feasible timelines and magnitude of available additional resources; communicate potential requirement uncertainties in addition to a single planning target; develop technical training modeling capabilities; and create a single office that is responsible for gathering all information.
  • AETC should use a systematic approach to investigate options for creating a pool of instructors when it is determined that a proactive resourcing strategy is appropriate or when immediate needs for instructors increase. Such an approach should identify potential sources of instructors, ensure that assessment criteria represent the characteristics desired of such a pool, systematically identify barriers to using particular categories of manpower for an instructor pool and develop policies to mitigate, and develop pilot programs for promising sources of instructor manpower for a small set of AFSCs with critical shortages.

Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by the Air Force Education and Training Command (AETC) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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