The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has been clear: The intelligence community workforce must represent the diverse expertise and experiences of the American people.
“To provide strategic advantage to policymakers and warfighters, we need to understand the world, which is constantly evolving and more connected than ever,” said Avril Haines, the Director of National Intelligence. “Building an IC workforce made up of people who think differently, see problems differently and overcome challenges differently is a prerequisite for success.”
As recent job reports and workforce indicators make clear, employers across industries continue to face significant hiring and retention hurdles. Federal agencies – especially those with complex missions that require lengthy security clearance processes – feel these challenges acutely. And the IC is no different.
In October, ODNI released a report detailing the IC’s efforts to hire and retain people of color, women and employees with disabilities. The report demonstrates that while the IC has taken several important steps forward, it has lots of additional work to do.
To address the talent gap, strengthen the IC and build an intelligence workforce of the future, IC agencies can take several meaningful steps:
For organizations that often operate behind a veil of secrecy, it can be difficult to build an attractive public brand. Turning this perceived barrier into an advantage requires a shift in agency recruitment efforts. The IC should favor recruiting from a larger, more diverse talent pool rather than continuing to try to attract applicants mostly from the same narrow talent pool.
As an example, the National Security Agency works with several Historically Black Colleges and Universities to establish a K-12 pipeline for cybersecurity talent. Many IC agencies are also increasing their social media footprints and using more modern communication techniques to identify talent and inspire potential applicants.
As another example, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency launched a pilot program in 2021 to increase workforce opportunities for neurodiverse individuals, including those on the autism spectrum. These types of creative efforts help address the existing talent shortage and strengthen the IC’s strategic advantage when it comes to cognitive diversity and approaching challenges with new solutions and processes.
With IC employees often confined to controlled information spaces as they work on some of the nation’s most pressing national security contests, it can be difficult to create the type of work flexibility that many professionals desire – especially among the Gen Z and millennial cohorts.
By thinking outside of the “way it’s always been done” and investing in secure and proven technologies, agencies can help create the workplace flexibility that current and potential employees now expect. A strong hybrid workplace goes hand-in-glove with embracing unclassified data analysis and production as part of the intelligence cycle.
The NGA has turned to secure, unclassified cloud architectures that not only enable remote work, but also help catalyze collaboration opportunities with partner companies and research institutions that may not be cleared to work in controlled information settings. Importantly, these tech-driven approaches can allow new employees awaiting their security clearances to start onboarding, working and remaining productive while they proceed through the security clearance process.
The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research has a rich history of conducting and publishing intelligence analysis using unclassified data sources. They may be a leader in defining the IC’s future of work in this area.
In today’s environment, even the most highly skilled employees will constantly need to upskill and develop new competencies. Adopting continuous learning practices can help IC agencies achieve a more effective and engaged workforce.
For example, by adjusting existing structures, like the Intelligence Learning Network, to incorporate experiential and micro-learning opportunities – such as programming projects, daily podcasts on key topics or self-directed short videos – IC agencies can help employees acquire more knowledge and skills that apply to their work and improve mission effectiveness.
Making micro-learning opportunities available on unclassified and classified fabrics also increases access, equity and fairness for learning and development across the IC workforce. Traditional instructor-led and classroom-based learning can limit access to learning opportunities and inhibit professional development across the IC workforce.
To motivate the intelligence community workforce to its highest performance potential, agency leaders can increasingly bring empathy to their roles and embrace humility as a core management practice. Humility means creating a continuous learning environment where every intelligence professional learns from one another and encourages psychological safety throughout the workplace.
This means empowering every employee to feel like they can speak up and contribute their ideas and experiences – regardless of their rank or title and without fear of repercussions. The feeling of autonomy that a humility-driven culture creates can help employees master their skills and tradecraft. It also instills purpose, which motivates employees and improves performance.
An Intelligence Workforce for the Future
The tools, resources and raw materials that support the mission of America’s intelligence community have radically changed over the past few years. From the growing size and importance of open-source intelligence to the emergence of massive commercial low-earth orbit constellations, intelligence professionals must demonstrate fluency in new technology and data sources.
By attracting more, flexing more, learning more and empathizing more, IC agencies can find new ways to quickly reskill and upskill their existing personnel and to inspire the next generation of diverse IC professionals – all while ensuring that the nation remains prepared for whatever the future may bring.
Kristin Mosher is a senior manager at Deloitte Consulting LLP. She partners with federal Human Capital clients, focusing on the Intelligence Community, to transform their workforces by delivering talent acquisition and talent experience solutions through a human-centered HR delivery lens.
Sue Kalweit is a managing director at Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics and a career intelligence professional. She advises federal intelligence community agencies in an effort to modernize analytics technologies, processes and methods consistent with strategy and mission.
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