On 5 November 2014, Navy Times reported that Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert had addressed the time it takes to train enlisted personnel. He is right. We have several very long A-schools, sailors’ initial technical training, and it’s good to see the CNO ask “what is it that we can do to be faster” without ordering wholesale reductions. Still, he may find that in some cases, the answer is, “Nothing, sir.” Because managers carefully document Fleet-mandated training outcomes that determine times and other resources, in most cases no further efficiencies exist. But Admiral Greenert’s comments do open the door to discussions on transforming training and education, conversations that must be about more than costs and Fleet manpower. We must also consider learning outcomes and the application of knowledge gained.
Admiral Greenert’s comparison of the two-year Fire Control Technician A-school pipeline to the timeframe for obtaining a master’s degree is unintentionally misleading. While both take two years, the time spent learning is not comparable. A master’s program averages six to nine credits (or classroom hours) per week. Assuming that master’s students spend twice as much time on assignments and class preparation, they devote 18 to 27 hours weekly to their studies.
Navy technical training typically includes six to eight classroom hours every day, often complemented by two or more hours of study hall, and sailors spend 40 hours or more every week learning their craft. Given that schedule, one could earn a master’s degree in significantly less time, which makes the situation that concerns Admiral Greenert even worse.
The CNO also mentioned the sequencing of C-schools, sailors’ advanced training, saying, “It’s at least six years until we send [sailors] to a major upgrade in their education.” That is true for some technical ratings, especially those with long sea-duty tours, and it is worth examining. One possible solution is segmented courses, in which sailors complete portions when their schedules allow, instead of longer classes all at once. This has the added benefit of exposing personnel to new technology more often—one of the CNO’s concerns—while making maximum use of that operational experience vital to sailors’ professional development.
Sailors deserve state-of-the-art training and education. But little has changed in several decades, and previous attempts to revolutionize training resulted in few improvements. For the most part, passive, lecture-based delivery and multiple-choice exams are the enduring pedagogy. We can do better.
Nearly all Navy schools result in some number of American Council on Education–recommended college credits being awarded. The number of credits and the quality of training continue to constitute an argument for building college degrees into our schools.
The Defense Language Institute, which awards associate of arts degrees in languages, continues to lead the way for sailors and their counterparts in other services. It’s beyond time that the Navy created something akin to the Community College of the Air Force. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear there has been any discussion on such a strategy since the publication of my April 2009 Proceedings piece “Let’s Create a Navy and Marine Corps College.” Sailors would benefit from advanced training designed like college courses, where a large portion of the learning occurs outside the classroom through reading, projects, and peer interaction. Such an innovative approach to the advanced training that Admiral Greenert mentions would truly represent an upgrade in sailors’ education.
It’s time we educated them, not just continue to train them. And their instructors must become educators, not only trainers. This strategy would accomplish two goals: It would provide advanced training at key times in sailors’ careers, and it would allow them an experience similar to the one officers have in full-time, funded education.
Sponsored by an accredited college, such hybrid programs—in which training and education coexist—would benefit the Navy beyond the skills that sailors develop. Class projects might uncover innovative ways of doing old tasks or discover solutions to new problems. Additionally, these programs would be fantastic recruiting and retention incentives.
It’s time for a radical transformation in our approach to enlisted training. Providing a college-like education and awarding appropriate degrees are fitting changes that would lead to numerous benefits for our sailors individually, as well as for our Navy as a whole.