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Marine Corps seeks ‘fundamental redesign’ to recruiting, retention, careers

U.S. Marine Corps Gen. David H. Berger, the 38th Commandant of the Marine Corps, at the National Conference Center in Leesburg, Va, Aug. 9, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Victoria Ross)

The Marines, long known for their high turnover rate, can no longer afford to let so many experienced troops leave, the commandant said in a new report that says the way the Corps handles personnel is “overdue for a fundamental redesign.”

In the 20-page “Talent Management 2030,” released Wednesday, Gen. David Berger said the Corps’ personnel system can’t supply the troops needed for the vision he laid out in his Force Design 2030 document from 2020. Distributed maritime operations and expeditionary advanced base operations require Marines to be strategic decision makers and able to fill multiple roles in remote environments.

“Technology is changing, the human marketplace is changing at such a rate that…our system will break on itself at some point in the next few years, and I don’t know when, where we wouldn’t be able to recruit, we wouldn’t be able to retain the talent that we need,” Berger told reporters at the Pentagon ahead of the report’s release.

Competition with China requires the Marine Corps to improve how it invests in its force.

“My assumption is we will not have a technological advantage, we will not have a numerical advantage. And it will be an away game for us. We will be on the short end of all three. What we will have, what we need is the intellectual edge. That’s what we have to have. Because if you’re smaller and they got better tech or the same as you do, and you’re fighting a long distance from them, you better have smarter, more capable leaders,” Berger said.

The new system will aim to treat Marines as rare and valuable talent, not just “inventory” to place in jobs, Berger said.

He wants the service to use the report as an “action plan” to develop and implement its initiatives, largely starting next year and achieving the full transition no later than 2025.

One of the major changes Berger wants to tackle is rebalancing recruitment and retention of Marines. Currently, his service discharges 75 percent of first-term Marines, which means finding and training about 36,000 new recruits every year, the report said. The high turnover rate and predominately young force means that the service lacks stable force numbers and mature leaders.

Berger said science and their own data shows that Marines who are in their mid- to late twenties have a higher athletic performance compared to those 17 to 22. Older people also overall make better decisions and have more cognitive function.

“Maturing the force by retaining a greater percentage of qualified first-term Marines will improve decision-making, problem solving, and risk assessment among our junior leaders, with immediate positive effects on our performance in competition and combat,” the report said.

He also wants the service to improve how it evaluates potential recruits. Right now the service uses the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or ASVAB, and a strength test. Next year, the Marine Corps will roll out more assessment tools intended to determine what careers are best for each recruit and predict whether they will stay for their entire contract. About 20 percent of recruits do not complete their first enlistment, which costs the service hundreds of millions of dollars each year, according to the report. A new comprehensive psychological evaluation will aim to determine whether a recruit is a good fit for military service.

Berger wants to recruit more mid-career people with valuable skills, like in cyber and artificial intelligence. They should join the Marine Corps with a rank that matches their education and experience instead of starting from the bottom. The service already allows lateral moves in career fields like medical or law; erger wants to expand that list.

“Why would we start her as a private when we need her skills, the technical skills, or whatever it is, that’s up here? That’s stupid of us. In talent management, we’re dumping all that and telling her to go to start at the bottom,” Berger said of the current system.

Taking a page from the other military services, the Marine Corps is also developing an online marketplace to list available jobs and allow people to apply to them. Officers will be offered access to the marketplace first and then senior enlisted. The service is still looking at how to change up the assignments process for junior enlisted Marines.

The marketplace will allow commanders to describe expectations for the job and what professional and educational backgrounds they are looking for, the report states. Commanders may eventually be able to interview Marines for the job, but first the service wants to develop “suitable controls to eliminate bias.”

“For Marines, a talent marketplace will increase available information about billet openings, improve transparency, and provide individuals with far greater influence over their future assignments,” the report said.

Berger’s talent management system plan also addresses two major quality-of-life issues: frequent moves and parental leave. Starting next year, the Corps will try to keep Marines and their families at one duty station as long as there are career growth opportunities available to them. The emphasis on new assignments and not physically moving the Marine will provide more stability for the family as well as units, the report said.

Berger also wants to increase parental leave for primary caregivers up to a year and for secondary caregivers up to 12 weeks, the same as federal employees. However, the service would need authorization to make these changes. Until then, primary and secondary caregivers in 2022 can ask for these longer leave periods by extending their service contracts for the same amount of time.

“We’re in a market for talent. So the Marine that we trained for four or 10 years, we need to work hard to keep. And if the reason that they’re leaving is they can’t see past either ‘I can have a military career or I can have a family,’ if that’s the fork in the road, we have to pull out the stops to try to find ways where we can keep them,” he said.

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