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Research Questions

  1. Is the training and development process that exists now working well for the cyber workforce? Is there a need for improvement?
  2. If cyber training and development need improvement, how might training be changed to better address the workforce's training needs?
  3. What would be the ideal way to train and develop cyber personnel, and what obstacles, if any, might be preventing the cyber workforce from implementing that ideal?

The U.S. military's success in cyberwarfare depends on the capabilities of the cyber personnel who are brought to the fight. Because cyberwarfare is considered a core element of the U.S. Air Force (USAF) mission, USAF has been looking for ways to revamp the training of its offensive and defensive cyberwarfare workforce to develop the best fighting force possible. USAF has also sought to better understand some of the drivers that attract and retain personnel in the cyber field.

To this end, researchers at the RAND Corporation conducted 30 focus groups and interviews to collect the viewpoints of enlisted and civilian cyber personnel on training, recruiting, and retention in the cyber field. The researchers also spoke with subject-matter experts at several USAF bases. The authors summarize cyber personnel's insights in two volumes of this report: Volume I presents findings related to training, and Volume II presents findings related to recruiting and retention.

Key Findings

Focus group participants said that training content and methods could be improved

  • Comments included that training is inapplicable or irrelevant, current instructional methods are ineffective, and there is a lack of or poor quality of training resources.
  • Participants also noted that training does not capture the "why"—i.e., personnel are not taught the overarching mission, the operational focus of their future jobs, or the importance of their work.
  • Some also mentioned a lack of simulations and hands-on practice, such as capture the flag and exercises that use live red forces.

Participants said that timely access to and currency of training is an issue

  • Comments included that there is a lack of access to existing training, certain necessary training does not exist, and training and resources do not evolve quickly enough.
  • Some also noted that administrative red tape was a limiting factor in improving course design and approval.

Participants said utilization of personnel could be improved

  • They noted that personnel prefer to stay in technical roles rather than be promoted to leadership positions.
  • Some also said that personnel are misutilized or ineffectively utilized.

Participants said length of training and the training pipeline needs to change

  • Comments included that the length of training and the training pipeline is not appropriate, skills atrophy after training, training is redundant, and breadth of training is a problem.

Training ownership presents challenges.

  • Comments included that squadrons are designing unit training, which is a problem, and USAF does not have ownership of some needed training.

Recommendations

  • Develop and proliferate more training simulations and ranges.
  • Find new ways to test cyber capabilities using live red forces, but do so selectively.
  • Institute cyber aptitude screening.
  • Create an online forum for learning, information-sharing, and talent management.
  • Provide more structure and oversight of trainings developed by individual units.
  • Redesign training to be flexible and responsive to just-in-time needs and tailored to airmen's existing capabilities.
  • Create senior technical roles that are not management oriented.
  • Better educate the entire USAF about what the cyber workforce does and how that work fits into the bigger USAF mission.
  • Hire and retain experienced instructors.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Secretary of the Air Force, Office of the Assistant Deputy Chief Information Officer for Digital Transformation and Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Cyber Effects Operations, and conducted within the Workforce, Development, and Health Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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