Air University Review, May-June 1971
Major Donald S. Fujii
The Air Force is continually plagued with the loss of highly qualified officers and airmen. This is especially true in the career fields where private industry offers premium wages to lure our experienced personnel who possess skills that are in great demand.
In the officer area, “voluntary loss rates,” which are computed as a function of officer resignations and requests for release from active duty prior to retirement, have been used to gauge the degree of general satisfaction/dissatisfaction with which young officers view a career in the Air Force. Over the past several years, the officer voluntary loss rates have been generally upward.1
In the airman area, “re-enlistment rates,” which include only those separating airmen who are “eligible to re-enlist,” are used as a general indicator of the effect of career motivation efforts. During the past several years, airman re-enlistment rates have been generally downward.2 The following excerpt from a recent issue of Air Force Times indicates that the slump in re-enlistment rates is becoming a matter of major concern:
Traditionally, AF has breathed easier once it has a first termer signed on for four more. In theory, the man committed for eight was not likely to toss away his retirement equity and could be counted on to go for the additional 12 when the time came.
In the early 1960s, the theory held up. Retention at the eight-year point was about as well as that for more senior career men . . . consistently about 90 percent or better.
By FY-1965, though, AF began to notice a drop in the second term rate. It slipped to 70 percent that year and continued to slip. By FY-1969, only 60 percent of the eight-year men eligible to re-up did so. About one out of three eight-year airmen were quitting after two hitches.
Motivation officials report a small rally this year. For the first three quarters of FY-1970, the second term rate was hitting about 64 percent.
But, the officials find little comfort in the modest improvement. Present surveys, they say, show that fewer than one half of all second term airmen have “positive career intent.”3
Thus, present trends in officer voluntary loss rates and airman re-enlistment rates imply that our current group of young officers and airmen finds the idea of an Air Force career less appealing than their predecessors did. This presages turbulent personnel conditions for the 1970s and beyond.
One of the primary effects of the loss of highly qualified officers and airmen is the necessity of an increase in training. As experienced personnel leave the Air Force, we are forced to train replacements to fill their vacant positions. This training is big business. Although I do not have the actual training costs in the Air Force during the last fiscal year, it is known that training cost the services $7.2 billion in FY 1969. The cost for FY 1970 was predicted to hover around the $7.6 billion mark.4 Therefore, the loss of our experienced personnel is an expensive Air Force problem.
Because of the high training costs that arise as a result of personnel losses, we have witnessed a steady stream of measures designed to counteract the exodus of our skilled and experienced personnel. Programs and studies, such as “New View,”5 have been undertaken to counter the trends in officer voluntary loss rates and airman re-enlistment rates. In addition, the Air Force has resorted to such monetary lures as the variable re-enlistment bonus and pro pay to stem the outflow of personnel.
When one scrutinizes and analyzes the results of these measures, most of them may be classified as moderately successful. However, very few of the measures have a truly permanent or long-term effect upon the problem. In fact, in some cases the measures appear to be a “putting out fires” type of approach. This, I believe, is because the Air Force has directed its countermeasures at symptoms rather than at the basic cause of the problem.
Let me state that I do not disagree with the present programs and studies. Our personnel managers have done a commendable job in improving job satisfaction, morale, and the other facets within their area of responsibility. All I am proposing is a different approach to the problem. I feel we must probe for potential solutions in areas other than those that revolve around the motivational aspects of the individual. I suggest we search for solutions in the areas of engineering and systems management.
basic cause of the personnel problem
I am convinced that the manner in which the Air Force’s operational hardware is designed is the basic cause of the majority of our personnel problems. More specifically, the traditional approach in hardware design fails to integrate applicable human-engineering considerations effectively. This oversight, in turn, results in weapon systems that possess voracious appetites for men and skills. The demand for large numbers of personnel and technical skills, the symptoms of our present design approach, gives rise to our personnel management problems.
As an example, let us analyze the typical approach used to design a portable aircraft test unit. Initially, a designer considers such engineering factors as weight, size, cable and wire routing, power requirements, reliability of parts, cost of parts, etc., and trades off their respective advantages and disadvantages to arrive at an optimal mix. Some designers even consider the skill level of the personnel who will eventually operate and maintain the unit; however, studies by Meister and Farr show that this type of designer is the exception rather than the rule.6 After several reiterations, the process eventually culminates in a final design. Then, almost perhaps as an afterthought, man will be inserted into the picture to determine the tasks that the operators and maintainers will have to perform. Once identified, the personnel tasks will give rise to the personnel and training requirements, which then lead to the formulation of Air Force Specialty Codes, training courses, and procedural data such as operator manuals, maintenance manuals, and technical orders. These manpower, training, and logistical factors all contribute toward the operational cost of our weapon systems.
In summary, the traditional design approach does not effectively integrate human-engineering factors into the final design of our hardware. Thus, it deprives the Air Force of a powerful management tool that could enable its personnel managers to get at the heart of the present trends in personnel losses. If our weapon systems were effectively human-engineered, the demand for personnel and skills would be reduced. This reduction, in turn, would lessen our present problem of officer and airman losses and reduce the high cost of replacement training. In a nutshell, the Air Force can get at the basic cause of its personnel problems, especially personnel losses, by designing hardware that requires fewer personnel and skills. With such hardware systems, personnel losses would literally cease to be a matter of major concern for Air Force personnel managers.
As Air Force weapon systems become increasingly complex and sophisticated, their appetites for specialized and highly skilled personnel will increase exponentially. Thus, it behooves high-level Air Force management to look for new management techniques that will control or reverse this trend.
The costs associated with system personnel are often overlooked or viewed within the limited framework of the initial procurement costs. However, when one considers the impact of personnel on costs during the total life cycle of a weapon system, the costs do become shocking. It has been estimated that the costs associated with operation, maintenance, and training may constitute from 50 to 75 percent of a system’s total life cycle costs. As our systems are kept in the operational inventory beyond their originally intended lives, such factors as personnel losses, the need for replacement training, the updating of procedural data to accompany improved hardware, increasing overhead costs, etc., play a proportionately greater role in determining the total cost of our systems. When one looks beyond the total life cycle of a system, the costs associated with such temporally distant factors as retirement pay, Veterans Administration benefits, etc., also have an impact on the overall Air Force budget.
Man is required for every weapon system, manned or unmanned. It takes trained and skilled personnel to transform our billion-dollar engineering marvels into dynamic, functional systems that are under the control of man and serve the objectives of our nation. In short, man is money—billions of dollars’ worth each year.
I am convinced that the Air Force can gain an effective means of dealing with its personnel problems, especially personnel losses, if it effectively integrates human-engineering design criteria into the traditional design process. The realization of this proposal will not be a simple matter. It will require open-minded, high-level managers who have the intestinal fortitude to break away from the traditional manner in which personnel problems have been approached. It will necessitate the development of policies, procedures, and techniques to provide a trained force of human engineers with a charter and the tools to enable them to influence hardware design effectively and meaningfully. As a precautionary note, let me add that this proposal is not an indorsement for the unlimited application of human-engineering design criteria. Such a philosophy would be just as detrimental as the present one, which places primary emphasis on hardware considerations. What I propose is the moderate, logical, and cost-effective application of human-engineering design criteria. The benefits to be gained from this proposal will not be delivered on a cost-free platter. However, once the inherent potential to be gained from the proposal is recognized, the Air Force may risk investing.
The modification of a station operator’s console will be used to illustrate the potential benefits that may be realized as a result of effective human engineering of hardware.
Prior to the modification program, the Air Force Satellite Control Facility (AFSCF) used station operator’s consoles, designated SOC-I, that required three operators per console.
During the modification program, human-engineering personnel from the contractor and the AFSCF were permitted to play a major role in the design and development of a second-generation station operator’s console designated SOC-II. During the design process, human-engineering design criteria and principles in such documents as Military Standard 803A-l (superseded by MIL-STD-1472) and the AFSCF Human Engineering Design Standards were applied to the hardware design. Extensive use was made of functional grouping principles and software-controlled, human-engineered visual displays. The cost and availability of commercial off-the-shelf parts were part of the human-engineering considerations. The final human-engineered design resulted in a console that required only two operators instead of the three required by SOC-I. Essentially, the SOC-I and SOC-II consoles performed similar functions.
The elimination of one operator per console, resulting from the design of SOC-II, will yield future savings of $446,112 per year throughout the remote tracking station network of the AFSCF. It is estimated that during the projected 10-year life of SOC-II the Air Force could realize savings of approximately $4 million.
Although this example is based on a modification program, the potential of effective human engineering is aptly demonstrated. Should effective human-engineering criteria be applied during the formative stages of the design process, the potential to be realized will most likely be much greater, especially from the cost-effectiveness point of view.
The solution I advocate is based upon three and a half years of experience as a human-performance engineer (the Air Force term for a human engineer) in the systems management environment, yet it is still intuitive. Therefore, high-level Air Force management must invest in the gathering of scientifically validated data and credible personnel costs before specific procedures and techniques can be implemented.
The manner in which this research is accomplished will be crucial to the success or failure of the proposal. Thus, the following suggestions are almost mandatory:
(1)The organization that is established to perform the research must be strongly oriented toward applied research. It has to be able to bridge the gap between basic research and the real world. The specific research tasks must be developed on a joint, cooperative basis with the eventual users of the data, primarily personnel of the system program office in Air Force Systems Command. This will ensure that the data produced will be packaged so as to be understandable and usable by the engineers and designers who work on our weapon systems.
(2) The organization should be placed under the direction of researchers who are responsible for personnel management, not hardware engineering. The engineers do not have a direct stake in the problem of personnel losses. Their expertise lies in the building of hardware, so it would be naďve to assume that they would be motivated to direct the research in question. The present ineffectiveness of the personnel subsystem (Air Force Regulation 80-46) supports this belief. On the other hand, our personnel managers, who are accountable for the resolution of personnel problems, would be committed and motivated to support the proposed research with vigor and enthusiasm. After all, they would become one of the beneficiaries of the results arising from the new human-engineering procedures and techniques.
(3) The personnel who comprise the research staff must process an academic background and practical experience in at least one of the following disciplines or fields: human engineering, personnel subsystem management, system analysis, econometrics, manpower management, system engineering, personnel management, and cost analysis. A blend of backgrounds is necessary because of the very nature of man’s role in our weapon systems: man-associated considerations permeate all hardware subsystems and functions. In short, the team approach is a basic necessity.
Once workable and cost-effective procedures and techniques are developed, the next step will be the formulation of policies to implement the proposed concept.
I believe the proposal contains sufficient merit to warrant further investigation. To me, it is an attractive investment for the Air Force to make. But it will never move from the idea stage until high-level Air Force managers have the guts to take a new approach to an old problem.
United States Air Force Academy
1. Based on information provided by the Air Staff.
3. “Re-Up Slump of Concern,” Air Force Times, 24 June 1970.
4. “Personnel Price Tag on the Rise,” Armed Forces Management, XV, 7 (April 1969), 75-77.
5. Clifford E. Smith, “Implications of ‘New View’ for Motivating Officer Behavior,” Air University Review, XX, 3 (March-April 1969), 57-62.
6. David Meister and Donald E. Farr, “The Utilization of Human Factors Information by Designers,” AD 642057, 16 September 1966.
Major Donald S. Fujii (M.S., Purdue University) is an Instructor, Department of Psychology and Leadership, U.S. Air Force Academy. After graduation from the University of Michigan, he served as a security officer in Japan, then attended Purdue as an AFIT student in human factors engineering. He was on the technical staff, Hq Space and Missile Systems Organization, AFSC, Los Angeles, prior to his current assignment. Major Fujii has published several technical articles.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.
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