As introduced in Chapter 2, this Appendix provides more detailed historical, current, and projected future U.S. Air Force (USAF) workforce data as context for the analysis and recommended action items contained elsewhere in this report. It also includes data on demographics and propensity to serve among the general population, as well as other factors such as private-sector competition. Understanding the internal workforce composition and the externalities that exert influence on the USAF human capital ecosystem (see Figure 2-2 in Chapter 2) is key to the historical success of the USAF human capital management (HCM) system and critical to the identification of potential areas for improvement. This Appendix focuses on the active duty force, although other branches of the Total Force—the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard—are included to the extent that they may be impacted by the same externalities and seek to achieve similar goals in the recruitment, selection, classification, and retention of enlisted personnel and officers.
DEMOGRAPHIC CHANGES IN THE UNITED STATES
Before reviewing the demographics of the Air Force, it is important to understand how the changing demographics of the general U.S. population may impact the recruiting strategies and composition of the Air Force. Between 1950 and 2010, the population grew from 158 million to 312 million, an increase of approximately 98 percent (Pew Research Center, 2014, p. 40). In the past decade, overall population growth has slowed and grown less than 6 percent (Johnson, 2020), reaching almost 330 million in early
2020. By 2060, the population is projected to be more than 400 million (BLS, 2018a). However, recent research on different international immigration scenarios have predicted there could be a younger, more diverse population or a smaller population, and 2060 population projection estimates range from 320 to 447 million (Johnson, 2020).
The population of America is not only changing, but also becoming much more culturally and ethnically diverse. Due to changes in immigration and increasing birth rates, the population of racial-ethnic minority groups have and will continue to rise for all ages. In the coming years, the two or more races population segment is anticipated to be the fastest-growing, followed by Asians (driven by international migration) and Hispanics (driven by high birth rates) (BLS, 2018a). The nation is also experiencing changes in age distribution. Although the population under age 18 is increasing, its percentage of the total population has been steadily decreasing and as of July 1, 2018, will comprise only 22.4 percent of the population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2018b). Projections of future population trends through 2050, by race, for 16- to 24-year-olds are presented in Figure C-1. Since the majority of entrants to the labor force, college, and military fall into this age group, these changing demographics will impact the recruiting pool and ultimately Air Force demographics.
In his written confirmation testimony, General Brown, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, succinctly explained the importance of understanding demographic changes in the United States and preparing for those changes within the Air Force human capital system:
The strength of our nation is fully realized when we apply a “whole of government” approach as we confront the vast array of complex challenges—
domestic and abroad. The success of this approach is undoubtedly linked to this nation’s most incredible asset—its remarkably diverse citizenry. The U.S. demographic landscape is rapidly shifting, and our public service institutions must be postured to deliberately attract and inspire participation across the spectrum of backgrounds and cultures. I believe that a national campaign for voluntary public, national or military service would benefit our whole society as it serves the greater good and helps a new generation better understand the workings of government while engaging in the forward progress of our nation (Brown, 2020, p. 56).
A brief overview of the demographics and characteristics of the U.S. Armed Forces is presented below. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is the nation’s and world’s largest employer1 with total personnel around 3 million; this includes active duty, reserve, and civilian personnel across all six branches of the U.S. military2 and other DoD agencies (e.g., the Defense Intelligence Agency). DoD active duty members are the largest percentage of the military (38.6%), compared to 29.8 percent ready reserve members and 25.3 percent DoD civilian personnel (DoD, 2018).
Of the active duty populations across the military, the Air Force is the third largest with 321,618 members as of FY2018. Comparatively, the Army is the largest (471,990 members), followed by the Navy (325,395 members) and the Marine Corps (185,415 members).3 The size of the Air Force, and all the Services, is determined by Congress who annually sets authorized endstrength4 numbers for each branch. To meet the authorized endstrength numbers, retention and attrition are balanced with accessions (USD P&R, 2019). Figure C-2 shows the total active component (AC) endstrength for each service from 1973 to 2018.
1 See assessments by U.S. government at https://www.performance.gov/defense/ and the World Economic Forum at https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/06/worlds-10-biggestemployers/. For current employment numbers, see https://www.dmdc.osd.mil/appj/dwp/dwp_reports.jsp.
2 The six branches of the U.S. military are the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard (peacetime operations under the Department of Homeland Security; wartime operations under the Department of the Navy), Marine Corps (a component of the U.S. Navy), Navy, and Space Force (a component of the U.S. Air Force).
3 The U.S. Space Force will be staffed through a combination of personnel transferred from other branches and new hires, as outlined in the FY2021 Defense Budget. Its FY2021 endstrength is expected to be approximately 10,000. See the Defense Budget Overview for additional details at: https://comptroller.defense.gov/Portals/45/Documents/defbudget/fy2021/fy2021_Budget_Request_Overview_Book.pdf.
4 Endstrength is defined as “the maximum number of servicemembers allowed” and for each fiscal year, actual endstrength numbers may not match authorized endstrength numbers since actual endstrength reflects the number currently in service (USD P&R, 2019).
Across all U.S. military branches, 82.3 percent of those on active duty are enlisted personnel while 17.7 percent are officers. Overall this means there is an average of 1 officer for every 4.6 enlisted personnel across the U.S. military. By service branch, however, the Air Force and Army are lower than the average with a ratio of 4.1 to 1, while the Marine Corps’ ratio is 7.7 to 1 (DoD, 2018).
The total number of applicants and non-prior service accessions into the military have decreased overall. From FY1981 to FY2017, the percentage of enlisted applicants accessed increased from 38 percent to 66 percent. In large part, this reflects the declining numbers of applicants, which results in a larger percentage of applicants accessed (see Figure C-3).
Among 18- to 24-year-olds in the United States, 35 percent reside in the South, which provided almost 45 percent of military accessions in FY2017. On the other hand, Midwest accessions are slightly underrepresented, and the Northeast is even more underrepresented (USD P&R, 2019). In FY2018, within the United States, almost three-fourths of active duty members are stationed within 10 states (in descending order: California, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Washington, Hawaii, South Carolina, and Colorado) (DoD, 2018).
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of females in the workforce has increased from 32.7 percent in 1948 to
56.8 percent in 2016 (BLS, 2020). Since 2000, the percentage of female active duty members in the U.S. Armed Forces has increased across all Service branches except the Army, and the representation of females in the military continues to increase. In FY2018, women accounted for 16.5 percent of the active duty members; in 1970 it was only 1.4 percent (DoD, 2018). Between 1970 and 2016, the number of working women with college degrees grew from 11 to 40 percent, with remarkable gains in professional and managerial occupations. During the same period, the military opened up almost all their career fields to women (BLS, 2020). See Table C-1 for a comparison of female active duty members among service branches since 2000. See also Figure C-4 for a details of comprehensive DoD force marital status and children.
The Air Force Total Force
In the Air Force, the Total Force, which includes active duty members, civilian personnel, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve Command, and Individual Ready Reserve, has remained relatively steady over the past
TABLE C-1 Percentage of Male and Female Active Duty Members by Service Branch Trends: 2000–2018
|Year||Army||Navy||Marine Corps||Air Force||Total DoD|
Note: Percentages may not total to 100 due to rounding.
SOURCE: DoD (2018, Table 2.16, p. 21). Original source: DMDC (Defense Manpower Data Center) Active Duty Military Personnel Master File (September 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015, 2018).
NOTE: Percentages may not total to 100 due to rounding.
Demographics of Air Force Active Duty Members
As of January 1, 2020, the Air Force includes 328,255 active duty members, of which 63,626 are officers and 264,629 are enlisted (Air Force Personnel Center, 2020). Detailed demographics for the active duty members are presented in Box C-1. The following subsections discuss these statistics in more details.
The military force in the United States is based on voluntary service, so the DoD has conducted monitoring of youth propensity to serve in the military since the 1970s to understand attitudes, trends, and influences. Understanding the potential number of enlistees that may consider military service provides an important operating picture for the work of Air Force Recruiting Service.
Propensity to serve in the Armed Forces has historically been measured by DoD’s Youth Poll (previously called the Youth Attitude Tracking Survey) and the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future—A Continuing Study of American Youth (MLDC, 2010). Box C-2 describes the different factors measured by the Youth Poll.
TABLE C-2 USAF Total Force as of September 30, 2018
|Air Force Active Duty|
|Total Air Force Active Duty||333,370||332,918||330,694||316,332||311,357||317,883||322,787||325,880||329,100||332,800|
|Direct Hire (excluding technicians)||145,407||142,047||141,496||129,120||129,985||131,965||140,116||135,879||140,414||143,125|
|Air National Guard Technicians||22,139||22,859||22,568||22,225||23,448||23,044||22,542||21,705||19,133||13,343|
|Air Force Reserve Command Technicians||9,397||10,366||9,277||10,429||8,501||8,384||7,872||7,648||10,154||8,938|
|Total Direct Hire||176,943||175,272||173,341||161,774||161,934||163,393||170,530||165,232||169,701||165,406|
|Total Civilian Personnel||183,719||181,986||179,842||166,597||166,024||167,097||175,100||169,434||174,230||166,002|
|Air National Guard|
|Selected Reserve Officers||14,418||14,598||14,731||15,024||15,084||14,593||15,257||15,401||14,817||14,986|
|Selected Reserve Enlisted||91,267||90,791||90,977||91,356||90,644||90,907||90,413||92,068||92,283||92,714|
|Air Force Reserve Command|
|Selected Reserve Officers||14,535||14,303||14,060||13,817||13,937||14,896||13,672||13,716||14,744||14,783|
|Selected Reserve Enlisted||56,786||57,125||56,853||55,967||54,557||54,304||55,126||54,987||55,256||55,317|
|Total AFRC Selected Reserve||71,321||71,428||70,913||69,784||68,494||69,200||68,798||68,703||70,000||70,100|
|Individual Ready Reserve Officers||11,692||11,222||11,222||11,222||7,302||7,492||7,492||6,593||6,601||6,691|
|Total AFRC IRR||40,555||35,493||35,493||35,493||36,751||36,851||36,851||28,394||28,072||25,824|
|Total Ready Reserve||217,561||212,310||212,114||211,657||210,973||211,551||211,319||204,566||205,172||203,524|
SOURCE: Air Force Magazine (2019, p. 41).
One notable consideration is that as fewer Americans have military service experience, this also reduces the number of influencers able to share positive military experiences with youth who may otherwise not consider a military career. One key influencer on propensity to serve comes from the support of family and friends. However, the Youth Poll found influencers were 70 percent likely in 2016 to support the decision to join the military, while 47 percent would recommend military service. These numbers vary, with mothers (31%) and fathers (43%) least likely to recommend service, while grandparents were 59 percent and other influencers were 57 percent likely. Recommendations also vary by service branch, with the Air Force (46%) and Navy (41%) higher than the Army and Marine Corps (JAMRS, 2018a).
The well-being and support of military families is also a consideration for entering or remaining in the military (NASEM, 2019). This can make the military more attractive than the civilian workforce, but on the other hand family difficulties due to military service can also influence the propensity to serve. A recent study found that the military’s financial and social-psychological incentives may attract young adults who grew up with a single parent (Spence et al., 2013). The study also found over double the odds of military enlistment among those from a stepparent family or living with neither biological parent.
Another important propensity component is the likelihood of serving in each of the different military branches. These data have historically been collected to help evaluate the enlistment potential of the youth market. In the Air Force, as well as the other branches, the majority of enlistees are under 21 (see Table C-3) (Cavalho et al., 2011). For all branches, males have been more likely than females to propense with 10 percent of men and 6 percent of women selecting the Air Force. For women this percentage is the highest, tying with the Navy, and among men, the Marine Corps is slightly higher at 11 percent, and the Army is 10 percent (Cavalho et al., 2011). Propensity for different branches has remained unchanged among males and females since 1999 (Cavalho et al., 2011).
Qualifications for Military Service
As discussed in Chapter 4, there are numerous eligibility requirements and qualifications for military service, which differ slightly for each branch. According to the Pentagon, almost 75 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are not able to qualify for military service (Feeney, 2014). Reasons include physical and mental health, educational background (lack of a GED or high school diploma), criminal history, drug use, and some tattoos and ear gauges. Some qualification requirements can be waived (see Chapter 4 for a discussion of accession waivers).
TABLE C-3 Cumulative Percentage of 2010 Enlistees by Age and Service
|Age||Army||Navy||Marine Corps||Air Force||Coast Guard|
SOURCE: Carvalho et al. (2011).
Despite the diminishing candidate pool and other challenges in recruiting, the Air Force is consistently successful in attracting and recruiting high-quality enlisted Airmen. In 2019, it enlisted 32,050 Airmen, approximately 9 percent more than in 2018, when the number recruited exceeded the goal by 2 percent (AFRS, 2019). In fact, over the past 20 years, the Air Force has met or exceeded its recruiting goals every year without fail. Furthermore, the exceptional quality of those recruits is reflected in the high percentage possessing a high school degree (consistently averaging 98–99% for at least the past 20 years through FY2019) and substantial number who enter with 15 or more college credit hours (close to 20 percent every year, FY2011–2019; AFRS, 2019). See Figure C-6 for FY2000–FY2019 total enlisted recruitment numbers along with the number of those possessing a high school degree.
ALTERNATIVE MILITARY PATHWAYS
There are several additional programs that expose youth to the military and thereby provide alternative pathways to military service. First, the Air Force College Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) helps college students prepare to join the military. Additionally, Air Force accessions benefit from youth exposed to military programs through two citizenship programs: the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFJROTC) and the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). AFJROTC is a high school training program, and CAP is a public service organization whose mission is to provide
emergency services and disaster relief within the United States. These three alternative pathways to military service are described below.
The Air Force College ROTC program is the majority contributor to new Air Force officers. Detachments are located at 145 host institutions in 47 states and Puerto Rico. It is available at more than 1,100 colleges and universities through affiliate relationships. ROTC is used as a tool for recruiting, and numerous locations that participate in ROTC allow targeted recruiting of technical expertise such as aviation, cyber, engineering, and nuclear and language skills. ROTC scholarships are a valuable tool that allows the Air Force to be competitive in recruiting the best and brightest as officer candidates. The scholarships are awarded to high school seniors and students after they have already enrolled at a college or university.
A 4-year college degree is a requirement for commissioning. Sources of commission for potential officers include the ROTC and the Service Academies. Currently officers are commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Air Force Academy, and Officer Training School, as well as other sources (e.g., direct appointment). Among AC commissioned officer gains in FY2018 for the Air Force, sources of commission included 20 percent service academy, 3 percent ROTC scholarship, 31 percent ROTC non-scholarship, 27 percent Platoon Leaders Course/OCS/Officer Training School, 18 percent direct appointment, and less than 1 percent other/unknown (USD P&R, 2019, table 32).
Air Force Junior ROTC
AFJROTC is a federally-mandated high school training program that serves almost 900 high schools. It has the potential to impart the positive traits associated with the military—such as leadership and discipline—to youth and their communities. Currently, more than 125,000 high school students are participating in the program taught by retired Air Force instructors. Of the participants, 58 percent are minorities and 40 percent are female (Air University, 2019). Among all the branches of service, more than 500,000 students are participating in the program, making it the largest training and development program for youth in the United States (Goldman et al., 2017).
While this program is not intended to be a military recruiting tool, and participants are under no obligation to join the military after high school, studies have found that there is an association with propensity to serve among the youth who participate in the program and those they interact with. The program also increases a participant’s entry-level rank if they enlist after graduating from high school (USAF, 2015).
In 2018, the Air Force partnered with 11 different universities to create an AFJROTC Flight Academy Chief of Staff Private Pilot Scholarship program (Air University, 2019). This 8-week aviation training program earns participants 12 college credits and a Private Pilot’s Certificate. The program’s goal is to inspire youth toward aviation careers while addressing the issue of diversity in aviation. Currently, less than 6 percent of pilots are female, and less than 10 percent are minorities (Losey, 2019). The program expanded in 2019 with 150 students and pending continued funding plans to expand in future years (Air University, 2019).
Civil Air Patrol
CAP is formally recognized as an auxiliary of the Air Force and part of the Total Force but operates as a non-profit serving the Air Force and its missions in a non-combatant capacity. It has three primary missions: emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education. These are described in more detail in Box C-3, below. The Air Force in return provides guidance, assistance, and oversight.
An important example of the mutual service to the Air Force is seen in the number of CAP cadets and members who join the service. Additional examples of CAP impacts include:
- Saved 117 lives and made 534 finds in search and rescue operations in 2019;
- Maintained one of the world’s largest fleets of single-engine piston aircraft with 560 planes available;
- Flew more than 95,000 hours in 2019;
- In 2019, impacted more than 600,000 youth with CAP STEM Kits; and
- Used $2.4 million in Air Force funds for pilot training aimed at helping reduce the nation’s pilot shortage (CAP, 2020).
Becoming a rated pilot in the Air Force requires extensive training and a commitment of 10 years of active duty service, as discussed in Chapters 4 and 5. To begin this training, Airmen must achieve qualifying scores on the AFOQT, pass a selection board, and meet the following qualifications:
- Be between ages 18 and 33 years;
- Have a bachelor’s degree;
- Successfully pass a background investigation;
- Complete Officer Training School, Air Force Academy, or ROTC;
- Have a working knowledge of flight theory, air navigation, meteorology, flying directives, aircraft operating procedures, and mission tactics;
- Meet height restrictions, depending on aircraft; and
- Complete Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training (USAF, 2019).
A Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) tool is also used for Air Force pilot candidates as one part of the selection process. It has three parts:
- A computerized psychomotor Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS);
- Qualifying scores on the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT); and
- Number of private (civilian) flying hours.
There are 12,323 Air Force pilots. Women were able to enter pilot training in 1976, navigator training in 1977, and fighter pilot training in 1993. Currently, there are only 806 female pilots (Air Force Personnel Center, 2020). Minorities are also underrepresented, with only 1.7 percent African American and 2 percent Asian Air Force pilots (Bryant, 2018). To enhance pilot diversity, the Air Force has established a number of programs since 1996 such as the Flight Awareness Summer Training at Delaware State University and targeted ROTC to encourage students at historically Black and minority colleges and institutions to consider careers in aviation (Jablonski, 2003). In August 2018, the Air Force held the first 3-week pilot training program, the Aviation, Character, and Education (ACE) Flight Program at Delaware State University. The program gives participants experience and education on careers in military aviation, and for the majority of students, the training ended with a solo flight. There were 24 students from various backgrounds in the program, including high school students and commissioned second lieutenants. One-third of the participants were women, 45 percent were Black, 17 percent were Hispanic, and 8 percent were Asian (Bryant, 2018).
Overall, there is a shortage of pilots in the Air Force, but the fighter pilot community has sustained the greatest shortage. Since FY2014, pilot fighter attrition rates have exceeded the annual production capacity (Byrnes, 2017). According to Lt. Gen. Chris Nowland, USAF, the issue does not lie with the recruiting of pilots, and the quality of new enlisted and officer recruits is the highest ever; rather, the problem is the capacity for producing the necessary number of pilots (Byrnes, 2017). Senior leadership is actively working on solving the shortage by decreasing the requirements for fighter pilots, increasing current pilot retention rates, and increasing production of new fighter pilots.
MILITARY AND PRIVATE-SECTOR WORKFORCE COMPETITION
Military services, including the Air Force, compete against the private sector to attract, recruit, and keep employees. Many civilian jobs have similar needs, resulting in ongoing competition to secure a capable competent workforce. This section reviews areas of competition between the two.
Box C-4 presents a comparison of military and private-sector careers. The comparison reviews many areas where the military has advantages or shortcomings compared to the private sector, particularly in attracting extremely competent youth.
As Box C-4 shows, comparisons between a career in the military and one in the private sector reveal a host of differences to consider. These are reflected in the reasons people list for considering joining and not joining the military. A 2017 poll of 16- to 21-year-olds found that almost 50 percent would consider joining the military to pay for future education, while 65 percent would not join due to possible physical injury or death (JAMRS, 2018b). The full results of the survey are below in Figure C-7.
As this Appendix demonstrates, the workforce of the U.S. military, and the Air Force specifically, is diverse and unique in its composition and its interaction with externalities (e.g., competition from the private sector). Changes to the nation’s demographics and the eligibility and propensity of youth to serve pose a challenge to recruitment. Yet the Air Force consistently attracts and recruits to exceed its goals both in quality and quantity. To be successful across the full range of human capital needs, from recruitment to separation, the Air Force must navigate complicated and complex variables and relationships. The recommendations and action items in this report’s Flight Plan should be considered in the context of current and projected future demographics of the nation and Air Force.
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