Top Pentagon officials spearheading execution of the Defense Department’s (DoD) new Cyber Workforce Strategy said Tuesday that we can expect to see an implementation plan for the strategy this summer.

The Principal Director for Resources and Analysis within the DoD’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO), Mark Gorak, said during AFCEA International’s TechNet Cyber conference in Baltimore on May 2 that the department has 30,000 cyber and IT job vacancies, and it’s critical that they begin work to fill them.

“The way we’ve aways been doing things doesn’t seem to be working, so we need to do things differently,” Gorak said. “We started with a workforce strategy, and now we’re going to do the implementation plan.”

He continued, adding, “Our implementation plan is due out this summer, so that will be key.”

The DoD rolled out its new cyber workforce plan in early March, and it takes aim at the department’s workforce retention challenge. The Cyber Workforce Strategy, which extends to 2027, outlines four human capital pillars – identifying workforce requirements, recruiting talent, developing talent to meet mission requirements, and retaining talent.

Patrick Johnson, director of the Workforce Innovation Directorate at the DoD CIO office, said that one strategy to fill the department’s workforce gap will be to move away from certification requirements for cyber and IT talent.

“What we want to do, and this is what we’re looking hard at, is moving away from certifications,” Johnson said during the TechNet Cyber panel. “Training is always going to be necessary; education is always going to be necessary, but ideally, I don’t care what certification you have. I don’t care what training you have.”

“If you can walk in and demonstrate that capability to perform the job, then you’re qualified. That’s where we should be, and that’s going to take some time to get there, but that is where we’re leaning forward,” he stated.

Johnson explained that, by 2027, the DoD is aiming to have interviews for tech and cyber talent consist of sitting the applicants down in a test lab and in front of a software system for eight hours to have them perform the job they would if they are a defense employee.

As long as they can demonstrate that capability, Johnson said – even if they lack a certain certification – they will be hired.

Of course, that will require a culture change at the DoD. “Culture doesn’t change on its own, and it doesn’t change rapidly,” Johnson said.

Gorak explained that keeping up with technical training and upskilling will be essential to retaining a cyber workforce in the DoD.

“Other fields in DoD already do this. Doctors have to get certified every year. Lawyers have to maintain their currency,” Gorak said. “It’s not a new thing, but we’ve never done that in our technical workforce. We hire for life based on the skills you had when you were hired.”

He continued, adding, “We have not kept up, so this [cyber workforce plan] is just one methodology to do that.”

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Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan
Cate Burgan is a MeriTalk Senior Technology Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.