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Advance Force Development: Forging a new mindset through occupational competencies

AETC Force Development Update

Air Education and Training Command’s occupational competencies branch is working to forge a new training mindset by assisting career field managers with the development of occupational competency learning models for the Air Force’s 266 career fields. (U.S. Air Force graphic by 2nd Lt. Robert Guest)


As part of the process to scale force development across the enterprise, Air Education and Training Command’s occupational competencies branch is working to forge a new training mindset by assisting career field managers with the development of occupational competency learning models for the Air Force’s 266 career fields.

The effort falls under the “Advance Force Development” priority area in the latest Headquarters AETC mission, vision and priorities outline.

“This effort to create a template for career fields to use to build got started back in 2017 ... with a program guidance letter from the secretary of the Air Force that identified the AETC commander as the force development commander,” said Lt. Col. Jamie Wiley, AETC occupational competencies branch chief. “Our goal has been to create a scalable, repeatable model that can be used to develop Airmen across their entire career, not just within the formal training environment or professional military education.”

Competency models can help a career field across the force development and talent management spectrum through recruiting and selecting individuals who possess the attributes needed to succeed in the career field, Wiley said.

"The models assist with training and developing individuals so the learner experience is more effective and the rate of decay for perishable knowledge and skills is reduced," Wiley said. "They also help assess performance and job progression objectively, as well as guide potential promotion and developmental opportunities."

Another benefit of occupational modeling is it aids succession planning in that the right people are vectored into the right positions through the transparency of what is required for job success, Wiley said.

To understand why competencies are needed to deliberately grow and develop Airmen throughout their careers, one only needs to think about what it is that distinguishes a top-performing Airman from an average one.

“You don’t think about the tasks that make an Airman a top performer; I highly doubt you think about tasks like how well they know definitions or how they build a document,” said Vincent Villanueva, AETC occupational competencies deputy branch chief. “We just don’t think in those terms; we think of the behaviors that make that Airman a top performer. The competencies tie the tasks together with specific behaviors that produce a top performing Airman.”

Competencies also link directly to an Airman’s professional development and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein’s focus area of revitalizing squadrons.

“Competencies get to the heart of making the force ready and lay the foundation for force development, tying directly into the profession of arms and making Airmen more well-rounded,” Villanueva said. “Additionally, career fields can use these competencies to give them time back, which talks directly to revitalizing squadrons.”

To build a competency model, the team looks at task-based knowledge and skills and combines them with other behaviors and soft skills such as teamwork, critical thinking, self-control, resiliency, leadership and stress management that ultimately lead to behavior-based outcomes, Villanueva said.

“Understanding these competencies allows our instructors in the formal training environment to left-load that soft-skill training into their curriculum development, helping the career field start building leaders earlier in their careers,” Villanueva said.

The goal to have a scalable, repeatable, competency-based model in place was June 2020, which the team shattered.

“We’ve already met our initial goal,” Wiley said. “We held our first career-field manager brief in November 2018, and the team’s first study was in February of this year. So far 22 career fields are in some phase of competency model development.”

Cross-functional teams are being used to build common competency models for Air Force specialty codes that represent diverse career fields, such as pilots and aircraft maintenance specialties, Wiley said.

To learn more about occupational competency model development and implementation, check out the “Developing Mach-21 Airmen” podcast featuring a conversation with Wiley and Villanueva.


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