The U.S. Air Force is dedicated to staying on the cutting edge of technology in order to deter threats across multiple fronts. As the government agency continues to scale its capacity in digital expertise, it saw that it needed to look beyond simply recruiting more technical hires. The USAF identified a tremendous amount of talent within its own ranks that could be upskilled, and Data Society answered the call to action.
Data Society’s team equipped USAF employees with skills relevant to their individual roles, guiding them in developing solutions to address real issues. Now, with a workforce ready and able to apply data science to operations, employee retention, and recruitment, they continue to look within to confidently meet today’s data challenges and attract future leaders in the field to serve a changing nation.
The demand for data scientists is abundant – 2020 estimates show a U.S. marketplace deficient by as many as 250,000 data science experts. To further exacerbate this scarcity, tech giants offer recent graduates competitive salaries that are difficult for a government agency to match. The United States Air Force met this challenge with a plan to take their talented airmen and upskill their operational know-how to encompass data science, DevOps, and user experience skills that they can deploy within their functions in the Air Force.
Given the large volumes of data handled by the USAF, as well as the increased need to operate efficiently, AFWERX’s Project Nexus is responsible for ensuring that the USAF has a cadre of capable data scientists and application developers to build machine learning digital tools that will address pressing needs and keep their staff up to date in the latest technology techniques.
Data Society worked closely with the USAF to clearly define learning objectives that would help airmen augment their capabilities. University data science programs produce graduates with the skills to meet the technical hurdles of their roles, but the USAF recognized that institutional knowledge is also key to the success of its workforce.
Delivering impactful and creative data science solutions requires a firm understanding of the military environment in which a product or solution will operate. Data Society worked with the USAF to develop three, custom four-month training programs aimed at high-achieving airmen to deliver exactly these skills.
Our teams hypothesized that a successful cohort would organically market itself as upskilled resources share bespoke capstone solutions across the organization. This theory continues to prove valid as each applying class has more than doubled over the length of Data Society’s relationship with Comcast.
New tools and new business intelligence capabilities would create a swell of interest from other company leaders. By developing a Community of Practice around the training academy, Data Society knew that there was an opportunity to create lasting value that ensured immediate and long-term benefits. Data Society recognized that staying on track with the established objectives would require the joint expertise of our instructional designers, data scientists, and Comcast’s SMEs.
Data Society designed a nine-month training academy for select applicants. Comcast required students to apply and qualify with a minimum baseline analytics background, specifically advanced Excel capabilities coupled with foundational SQL and Python skills. With this threshold as a prerequisite, the program could focus on resources offering the highest potential to deliver projects with impact at the academy’s conclusion.
Data Society thrives in such mission-focused environments. By outlining learning goals early in the engagement and aligning them with strategic and tactical organizational objectives. Students were introduced to foundational data science skills and built lessons up to the most cutting-edge principles. This comprehensive data science education, combined with mobile development and UX/UI training, gave airmen a full new skill set for developing data-forward custom applications to drive innovative military technology.
Data Society captured the opportunity to create solutions for 12 unfunded requirements from Air Education and Training Command (AETC) and turned them into capstone projects addressing the real challenges they face in their respective roles. This type of applied learning not only addresses the highest level of Kirkpatrick evaluations but can also drive business impact in immediate and long-term scenarios.
The products of these capstones range from pilot training optimizations to next-generation Air Force recruiting. These tools continue to garner time and resources to ensure their successful implementation within their respective operating environments. According to Data Society's primary Project NEXUS contact, Capt. Kyle Palko, the capstones provided as much as an estimated $1.5M in project delivery.
“This proved that the immersive boot-camp model is a viable solution to take high-performing airmen of any rank or career field and upskill them at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing,” Palko said. “With organic technical talent, we can develop and field software faster, provide data insights for commanders on demand, and build the DNA of the Digital Air Force in preparation for the wide-scale adoption of artificial intelligence.”
AFWERX collected weekly feedback from students and found that Data Society's students scored the highest among all training programs in student confidence for solving complex problems. Such results speak to our deep expertise in all three trained verticals and the high level of support our instructors provided students as they worked to solve their toughest challenges.
From a retention and hiring standpoint, the program's Commanding Officer (CO) shared substantial savings by training Air Force personnel versus hiring new resources. For the price of a single mid-level software developer, NEXUS trained six airmen to wield similar technical competencies, skills that served to complement their in-depth operational know-how.
Data Society and AFWERX's partnership was an unmitigated success. In addition to expanding the capabilities of inquisitive airmen, it has delivered a clear ROI. Long-term benefits of the training program are evident in USAF's in-house resources, who bring new skills to their USAF operational and strategic knowledge. The CO credited Data Society's comprehensive training and applied learning techniques with saving the USAF an estimated $5.2M in human capital.