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Research Questions

  1. How does the national unemployment rate affect the retention intentions of maintenance, logistics, and munitions personnel?
  2. What effect does the region of assignment have on retention decisions?

Over the past ten years, maintenance career fields in the U.S. Air Force have been negatively affected by a series of events that have resulted in an experience shortage. Although there has been an improvement in Total Force manning since 2015, several skill levels are still experiencing shortages. To bridge the experience shortfall, the U.S. Government Accountability Office called for an Air Force retention strategy tailored to retain experienced maintainers. The RAND Corporation was asked to explore whether individual characteristics, economic and geographic factors, and the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) could provide additional insights into what predicts retention of this workforce.

This report focuses primarily on aircraft maintenance career fields, with some attention to munitions and logistics career fields as resources permitted. The authors undertake two analytic approaches to examine the underlying determinants of retention. First, they use logistic regression to determine how strongly a variety of individual and environmental characteristics are associated with decisions to reenlist, extend an enlistment, or separate from the Air Force; second, they use RAND's Dynamic Retention Model to estimate how the new BRS will affect maintenance, munitions, and logistics career fields when those in the new system reach retention decision points.

The authors find that changes in individual characteristics and environmental variables have improved retention in the maintenance, munitions, and logistics career fields. Although much of what influences retention is beyond the Air Force's control, the authors offer a number of recommendations and identify areas of emphasis that could be exploited.

Key Findings

  • Higher grade, being selected for promotion, and higher-quality performance are positively related to retention.
  • Major command and geographic region of assignment can influence retention decisions. For example, those in overseas assignments are less likely to retain than those in various regions of the United States.
  • Retention is not significantly related to aptitude, as measured by the Armed Forces Qualification Test.
  • Retention is associated with graduating from Airman Leadership School, receiving a Noncommissioned Officer Academy award or Senior Noncommissioned Officer award, having a top rating on the most recent enlisted performance report, and having no promotion detractors.
  • Marriage and family formation are positively related to retention.
  • Stress, in the form of lower Air Force specialty code manning or too heavy a deployment load, tends to lower retention. However, some deployment experience, up to a point, is good for retention.
  • Higher national unemployment rates are associated with higher retention.
  • The BRS, with appropriate application of the midcareer bonus, is not expected to adversely affect retention.

Recommendations

  • Focus on individuals on initial four-year enlistments rather than those on six-year enlistments, as the latter are associated with less retention. More research is needed to better inform this difference and possibly exploit it.
  • Use selective reenlistment bonuses to increase retention.
  • Emphasize family support services and family-friendly management practices, as marriage and family formation are positively related to retention.
  • Minimize stressors that are due to Air Force specialty code undermanning or maldistribution of deployment demands.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    The Retention Environment

  • Chapter Three

    Regression Analysis Results

  • Chapter Four

    Simulated Retention Effects of the Blended Retirement System Using the Dynamic Retention Model

  • Chapter Five

    Key Findings, Recommendations, and Next Steps

  • Appendix A

    Technical Information About the Regression Analysis Data

  • Appendix B

    Enlisted Tenure Decision Points and Shaping Mechanisms

  • Appendix C

    Logistic Regression Model Results

  • Appendix D

    Average Marginal Effects for Years of Service 6–9 and 10–13

  • Appendix E

    Dynamic Retention Model Parameter Estimates and Model Fits

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Force Directorate of Logistics (AF/A4L) and conducted within the Manpower, Personnel, and Training Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation 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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