Cover: Civilian Cyber Workers in the U.S. Department of Defense

Civilian Cyber Workers in the U.S. Department of Defense

Demographics, Retention, and Responsiveness to Training Opportunities

Published Jul 15, 2022

by Michael G. Mattock, Beth J. Asch, Avery Calkins, Daniel Schwam


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Research Question

  1. How does training for DoD civilian cyber employees affect retention when accounting for the length and timing of the training, the inclusion of a payback obligation, and the training's effect on internal and external pay opportunities?

Given the importance of the civilian workforce to the U.S. Department of Defense's (DoD's) cyber mission, it is imperative to understand how pay, promotion, and retention have varied over time and to continue to identify and refine strategies for retaining civilians with cyber expertise. After establishing that these personnel outcomes vary across cyber occupations and differ from the outcomes for the rest of DoD, the authors explore how training might be used as a retention lever for cyber employees.

Training is an essential component of initial and ongoing skill development and is especially important in cyber, where technology changes at a rapid pace. Although training is necessary to ensure the continual productivity of the DoD cyber workforce, simulation results suggest that an aggressive training policy should be accompanied by the development of internal opportunities and by pay commensurate with external opportunities. Otherwise, trained personnel will have a relative disincentive to stay, assuming their training is equally valuable and remunerative elsewhere. Therefore, training policy should not be developed in isolation but in concert with internal pay, opportunities for advancement, and engaging work experiences.

Key Findings

  • When training improves external opportunities for DoD civilian cyber employees on net (i.e., training results in a greater increase in external opportunities than in internal opportunities), training without a payback obligation reduces retention when (1) the improvement in external opportunities is greater and (2) training occurs earlier in the career.
  • Training for cyber employees that includes a payback obligation produces only a temporary improvement in retention if pay does not also increase.
  • Training policy should not be developed in isolation but in concert with internal pay, opportunities for advancement, and engaging work experiences.
  • Future research should identify the differences between pay-banded and general schedule/government grade (GS/GG) cyber workers and the nonpecuniary differences between pay-banded and GS/GG cyber worker jobs and jobsites.

This research was sponsored by the Deputy Chief Information Officer for Cybersecurity and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

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