Air Force touts Digital U tech reskilling effort

Micro-credentialing and new data projects are being used to reward airmen, the Air Force's deputy CIO says.

cyber volunteers

The Air Force is taking a servicewide approach to reskilling with its "Digital U" program.

Air Force Deputy CIO Bill Marion said that initiatives like Digital U were part of the service's push to train all personnel in cyber capabilities, unlike other government programs like the Federal Cyber Reskilling Academy that targeted reskilling individuals who displayed technical aptitude.

"The Digital Air Force isn't just about the cyber professionals and the IT professionals, it's the flight-line technicians running field diagnostics. It's the financial managers, who are running analytics on a budgetary process or it could be AI or data smarts in fields that don't traditionally get tech training," Marion said at a Feb. 18 Scoop News event.

In July 2019, the Air Force published a white paper laying out its "Digital Air Force" strategy to overhaul its IT systems, better coordinate warfighting decisions across domains and improve its abilities to share and manage data.

"The intent of Digital U was to truly democratize technical training across the Air Force," Marion said. "Traditionally, we would go in there and say, 'Well that's not your career series. You don't need to worry about that.' I think we all recognize data is a strategic asset, and we need to arm every single airman with it."

What appeals to airmen who take classes with the Digital U program is that it doesn't force them into a particular type of job, Marion added.

It's also a simpler way of putting airmen's strengths to use even when their talents don't necessarily match up with the job they currently have, such as rewarding them with badging and micro-credentialing for knowing a particular computer language or giving them a unique data project they may not otherwise get in their particular line of work.

Reskilling efforts like Digital U have also become emblematic of a changing Air Force that's focusing more on training its workers to be agile and less on emphasizing a particular skill set or technical ability.

"It's not really about project management skills anymore as much as it is about data," Marion said. "AI, customer experience, user experience-type skill sets [are more important], because that's really where we're shifting, and so the tech piece with Digital U and the retooling it's creating is critical in the workforce."