Attrition: Securing Scarce Sailors

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September 7, 2009: After halting their re-enlistment bonus program last June, the U.S. Navy has decided to resume paying these bonuses, of up to $90,000, to sailors in 179 different job. The navy calls these bonus-worthy jobs, "critical skills," and the navy thought that cutting all the bonuses out might work, because of the recession. The navy didn't have much choice, because budget cuts, and more demands on the fleet, caused a critical cash shortage. So the bonuses were halted, and the navy found that they were losing people (SEALs, tech experts, intel specialists) they could not really afford to see go. So, starting October 1st (the start of Fiscal 2010), the bonuses are back. And critical people who are approaching their separation date (the end of their current contract), are being told to wait for an offer they can't (the navy hopes) refuse.

The bonus problem is actually a part of the current navy downsizing program, which is trying to get rid of people it doesn't need (not possessing needed skills) or want (disciplinary or physical fitness problems).while keeping those who are needed. But too many people want to stay. That is, more sailors want to stay in once their enlistment contracts are up. This is particularly the case with sailors serving their first term (usually four years.) The navy expects half of them to re-enlist, but currently, 62 percent are doing so. First term re-enlistments are particularly valuable, because it's easier to put these men and women in specialties that are growing. Many of the older sailors are in jobs that are no longer needed, and it's more expensive to retrain older, and higher ranking, personnel. The growing number of sailors eager to stay in has allowed the navy to reduce re-enlistment bonuses, and raise performance standards in general.

The bonus program is meant to keep people who have been in for a while, and acquired skills that are difficult to get, and very valuable to the navy. SEAL commandos are one of the obvious examples, but there are many technical specialties that are not as well known, but just as essential. All of these critical skill people can get better paying, less stressful, and not as dangerous, jobs on the outside. Keeping them in uniform requires changes in how they work (not going overseas as often), in addition to big bonuses.

The navy currently has a strength of 332,000, and wants to get that down to 326,000 within the next two years, while not losing scarce, hard-to-train and difficult-to-keep technical specialists. Another way to downsize effectively is to raise all sorts of standards, forcing out those who don't measure up. This includes going after, well, appearance. The navy has already cracked down on sailors and officers who are overweight. Many more sailors are dieting and showing up at the gym regularly. In the new navy, it's often the case that only the lite survive

 

 


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