The U.S. Air Force is almost ready to release its digital skills learning program – dubbed the Digital U Strategy – according to the service branch’s Deputy CIO Bill Marion.

“Having that [Digital U] framework across the entire continuum is really critical to what we do,” Marion said after announcing that the program will launch soon. He explained that digital skills are crucial to the Air Force’s mission because of the requirements of modern warfare techniques.

“We fight from desktops and servers and web applications,” Marion said Jan. 23 at the Unisys Smart 2020: Mission Possible event. “We are absolutely a tech company,” he said.

Digital U is taking a three-pronged approach to digital skills training through democratization of access to a digital education, gamification of the experience, and operationalization of results.

To democratize access to the program, the Air Force will make digital training available to all service members at a low cost. This will promote cross-functional job growth by teaching technical skills at a commercial pace, according to Marion’s presentation.

Gamifying the experience incentivizes the learning process. Marion said that this form of learning would even drive his 14-year-old child “to learn 27 different things about analytics.” Badges earned in the game-like training process can even be translated into real-world actions, performance, and promotions.

These real-world actions are how the Air Force plans to operationalize the results of Digital U. Building a digital skills inventory to craft more effective squadrons, and using an individual’s progress in the program to inform internal recruiting are two examples Marion provided.

He also commented that new cybersecurity protocols “crush the souls of our airmen … by putting so much cybersecurity on them that they can’t operate.” The deputy CIO explained in his presentation that if securing a device makes it unusable, users will find another way.

To solve this dilemma, part of the Air Force’s digital workforce initiatives also includes a new approach to cybersecurity using a true-risk equation to mitigate threats. Investments in tools and tactics such as zero trust and containerization are being implemented to protect Air Force’s massive number of endpoints, Marion said.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.