The Department of the Air Force Considers the Role of AI in its Workforce
The Department of the Air Force (DAF) is examining the role of artificial intelligence (AI) on its workforce in several ways, from increasing airmen and Guardian skills in algorithms to harnessing AI for career development, day-to-day business needs and other hiring processes.
Certainly, competency is needed in machine learning, large language models and other AI solutions for airmen to run systems of the future. However, the service also wants airmen and Guardians to benefit from the use of AI to help guide their career path selection strategies, in developmental and other processes.
“We think about AI as something that affects the workforce in several different ways,” said Winston Beauchamp, the DAF’s deputy chief information officer (CIO), speaking with Col. Joy Kaczor, director, Cyber Operations and Warfighter Communications, Headquarters A2/6, at the AFCEA Alamo Chapter’s annual Alamo ACE event in San Antonio on November 16.
“First, AI is absolutely a skill set that we need to develop amongst our workforce, so that they can develop the capabilities to employ AI in our systems,” Beauchamp stated. “AI is something that is pervasive across the department and its systems. But we're not here to talk about systems, we're talking about people.”
The DAF has a number of efforts underway to provide a basic level of AI knowledge and familiarity across the entire workforce. Additional programs will provide more specialized AI skills “in certain areas where we believe it's more relevant to understand that at a deeper level,” the Deputy CIO said.
The effort stems from a partnership across various offices in the department, the leaders shared.
AI solutions could also assist humans in alleviating monotonous tasks, freeing up personnel to take on more interesting work. “We are also thinking about how we use AI in the day-to-day business operations of the department that will help to further our goals as well,” he shared. “We are already employing AI in several minor ways to help ease business operations of work that is repetitive, or is in some ways, maybe not the best use of our airmans’ or Guardians’ time. And so, adding in more of those capabilities, often with the help of industry, built into applications is a key area for us as well.”
To the warfighters trying to navigate their careers, identifying and succeeding in meaningful roles, AI could be an effective resource and tool for selecting personnel.
“I'm seeing now how we're starting to use tools like Envision to pull the information from those different data sets, to try to map out what are the skill sets that the airmen have,” Col. Kaczor stated. “But that means you have to have the right data in the right place, you have to know where to get it and to be able to do something with it. Those are some of the ways in which we are trying to get after this. I will tell you though, we still use spreadsheets.”
“We get hundreds, sometimes thousands of applications for vacancies on the civilian side,” Beauchamp added. “We also have a mechanism for selecting our incoming airmen and Guardians, and wouldn't it be great if we can use the power of AI to do a research on their background or their intentions, or their capabilities, how well they have done in school, and use that, combined with our database of folks that have been through the department over the past 75 years, to understand who would make a really good airman or Guardian.”
The Department @usairforce staff is thinking about the role of AI in the workforce. Not only is AI a skill set our workforce needs to have but how can we use AI to help with personnel or career advancement, says Winston Beauchamp & Col. Joy Kaczor #AlamoACE2023 @AlamoAFCEA @AFCEA pic.twitter.com/91uXRzwQlg— Kimberly Underwood (@Kunderwood_SGNL) November 16, 2023
The colonel acknowledged career information is currently in disparate systems, making it difficult to negotiate next steps. AI capabilities could unite and search large systems making career solutions more accessible, not only for airmen but also for the developmental teams that have to evaluate them.
“I need it to help us manage that talent, and so those are some of the things we're trying to do within our team, to leverage AI capabilities, because there's different information in disparate systems,” she offered. “And then how do we make it a little more transparent to the airmen.”
“[What if it could say] here are some job opportunities that match to you ... like with that system called LinkedIn,” Col. Kaczor said.
Moreover, AI-based solutions could potentially be used as a means for retaining the workforce. “It would be terrific if we could also use similar tools to figure out what the ideal next assignment might be for that individual,” Beauchamp said. “We know on a retention basis, that there are folks that we put through training, thousands of hours of training, that may not be completely utilized in their assignment. And we know that that's a big retention issue. When folks have skills that are not used, we tend to lose them faster than if we put them to good use while they're here.”
In addition, the leaders understand that capabilities exist in the commercial sector—such as resume search functions or automatic job suggestions on platforms such as LinkedIn—that the military could harness. “We can do better than key word searches for resumes,” the colonel emphasized.
“All of these, this entire landscape of functions is on the table for how we intend to use AI, as we continue to refine and improve our workforce,” Beauchamp said.