Understanding and Attracting the Next-Generation Navy Sailor

Navy sailors from the USS Makin Island take part in a re-enlistment ceremony in San Diego.

Navy sailors from the USS Makin Island take part in a re-enlistment ceremony in San Diego. Gregory Bull/AP

If the Navy ensures sailors are challenged and excited by the technologies they’re using, these individuals might opt to stay in the service longer.

The digital world has changed the skill set needed to achieve mission success. Networks have spread to reach remote locations. Sensors in ships, vehicles, devices and soldier equipment track performance, movement and even monitor health. Real-time analysis allows decisions to be made in seconds rather than minutes, hours or even days.

Technology is also changing what sailors expect from their Navy experience. Next-generation sailors are different than any other generation. Today’s recruits, post-millennials born after 1996, are the most tech-savvy generation for one reason: The digital world is all they’ve ever known.

Navy leaders must provide an environment that supports modern operational needs and appeals to this new, tech-savvy generation. To do that, every next-generation recruit should be seen as three different, but equally important, things: a cyber sailor, an ease-of-use sailor and a motivated sailor.

Cyber Sailor

A recent Pew Research study found that young adults (18-29 years old) “generally are more focused than their elders when it comes to online privacy.” Therefore, while tomorrow’s sailor has probably posted an embarrassing photo on social media, they are also likely to use privacy settings and be aware of online security dangers.

To encourage this protective instinct, next-generation sailors need the ability to support every network access point (device, sensor and user), which could open the door to an intrusion threatening the entire network from the ship to the base. From a technology standpoint, these sailors require three things: visibility, analysis and automation.

Network visibility enables sailors to understand and evaluate the full landscape of potential threats. With comprehensive visibility, sailors can use machine learning and artificial intelligence tools to analyze data across sources, baselining behaviors and identifying deviations in application performance or user behavior to identify cyber risk.

Automation is critical in supporting both ongoing network analysis and responsive measures to identify risk. Cyber sailors use automation policies to enable proactive quarantining of potential threats and other rapid response actions.

Ease-of-use Sailor

The next-generation sailor has certain expectations about the technology they use. More than any other generation, post-millennials are accustomed to the flexible, user-friendly mobile device experience and they expect that in their jobs. 

As networks expand and adopt complex systems, sailors need the ability to streamline processes and move quickly from one task to the next with an easy-to-use dashboard.

For instance, the average network receives more than 4,000 security alerts per day, most of which are false alarms. Incorporating event correlation and artificial intelligence into a security dashboard enables the sailor to rapidly detect not only known security events but see alerts for deviations that could indicate an unknown threat.

Additionally, next-generation sailors expect to be able to connect with friends and family, regardless of where they are stationed. Post-millennial sailors won’t be satisfied with previously accepted norms (outdated tech, limited shore connection to reach family and friends).

If the Navy wants to retain talent, especially those with technical skills who could seek opportunities in the private sector, it needs to consider the work environment provided, just like any other organization. We’re seeing this happen with senior officials across federal agencies, particularly those with expertise in cyber.   

Motivated Sailor

The other important characteristic the Navy and other branches must keep in mind is appealing to the motivated sailor—the individual driven more by aspirations of career advancement than a calling to serve the country.

For those motivated by personal ambition, and that’s not a bad thing, technical training, education support and hands-on experience using the latest solutions and platforms, including technologies being used across the private sector, is an attractive option. If the Navy ensures sailors are challenged and excited by the technologies they’re using, these individuals might opt to stay in the service longer.

Bottom line: Next-generation recruits need to know joining the Navy is an opportunity to both serve their country and gain valuable expertise beneficial for their long-term career.

The next-generation workforce has a lot to offer. The always-connected mentality sounds negative if you’re picturing a 15-year-old on social media. But fast-forward five years and that 20-year-old can apply this mentality to his or her job ensuring sailors can communicate in real time.

Cyber sailor, ease-of-use sailor or motivated sailor—the Navy and other branches must appeal to the technology needs of the next-generation if the U.S. is going to keep leading in the cyber, digital-driven battlefield.  

Kelly Jones is a U.S. Navy veteran and current systems engineer for the U.S. Navy Shipboard team at Cisco Systems, Inc.