A hull maintenance technician works on a steel bracket. This is one of 10 ratings Navy officials say may be worth converting into. Making a move could you chances to advance in the ranks. (PHAN Christine Singh / Navy)
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The Navy is experiencing an advancements boom.
It started last spring, when petty officer promotions jumped about 50 percent, and then in the summer, E-6s had a strong, 24 percent shot at making chief.
Fall petty officer numbers went even higher, resulting in an overall 33 percent chance to advance, the best chance in more than a decade. The chief advancements for fiscal 2013 are expected to drop only slightly from fiscal 2012's figure.
These positive promotion numbers, Navy officials have said, are a sign of stabilized manning. It's refreshing news after a few tough years that saw overmanned ratings, lower advancements, fewer re-enlistment approvals and the cutting of nearly 3,000 sailors under two enlisted retention boards.
But just because those days are over doesn't mean everyone can rest easy. Some ratings remain overmanned, potentially putting sailors at risk.
No matter how positive the times may be, there will always be sailors who have to make tough decisions, said Capt. Hank Roux, the Navy's head community manager, based in Millington, Tenn.
Knowing when or if a sailor should make a move requires the proper intelligence. To help, Roux spoke with Navy Times to outline some of the best career moves that sailors, E-6 and below, can make to ensure they remain promotable — and in the Navy.
"We don't want to force anybody to do anything, but if they're in a rate that's clearly below the Navy average in advancement, then they could be facing some hard choices," Roux said. "Ultimately, it comes down to one fundamental question: Do you want to stay in the Navy, or do you want to stay in your rate?"
Roux highlighted the 10 ratings most at risk in terms of overmanning. Conversely, he's also provided the top 10 wide-open ratings that could be worth converting into. In some cases, job security also comes with bonus money.
For nonrated sailors, Roux also provided the top 10 ratings that will give junior sailors a big head start for fostering successful careers.
The community manager said the service is committed to providing sailors in all of the above situations with help making career decisions, and sailors should not hesitate to contact Millington if they have any questions. To reach a manager, visit www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/enlisted/community">www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/enlisted/community and click on your community.
And it's not just individual sailors who need to track the Navy's needs and overages in the enlisted career force, he stressed. Deck-plate leaders, too, need to be knowledgeable, not only for managing their own careers but also to properly advise those who work for them.
We'll now delve deeper. Here's what you can do to determine:
• Whether your rating is at risk.
• Where you should convert.
• And for those nonrates, how to get on the right career track.
Know your risk
Though personnel officials focused over the past few years on evening out the enlisted workforce, there remain overmanned ratings that span many communities.
Before sailors in these ratings make career decisions, they need to do their homework.
"The key to the top 10 convert-out ratings is that the overmanning is in specific year groups and sailors need to be aware of where they are and what the manning is for their year group," Roux said.
Your year group is the year in which you entered the Navy. But for those with broken service, that year is adjusted to reflect total years of active service. Year groups have long been used by officials to manage the officer corps, but they are a relatively new dynamic in the enlisted workforce. Only since October 2010 have officials really shifted from managing ratings as a whole to eyeing the numbers of sailors in each year of service.
If you don't know what year group you are in, now is the time to find out, Roux said. The place to start is with your chain of command — specifically your command career counselor.
But Roux also encouraged sailors wanting to assess their personal career outlook to communicate with their community managers — and the earlier the better.
Though sailors must be within a year of rotating from their current billet before they can request to convert, you can start laying the groundwork long before that.
"The first thing they should do is talk to the community manager of the rating they would like to get out of, and then next to the community manager of the rating they would like to go into," Roux said. "We strongly encourage them to do this. That way there's no false hope out there as to what's possible."
Whether their current rating is overmanned or not, their current rating's community manager has the biggest vote on whether they will be allowed to convert out.
"If the losing [enlisted community manager] can afford to lose them, and the gaining ECM really needs them, then they will work together to counsel that sailor on what they should do next," he said.
The next steps in the process are to make sure your Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery scores are at the right level for the new rating. Also, find out if your new rating will require a security clearance. If so, that process should be started.
Sailors should also start studying the Navy's correspondence courses for their new rating.
When it comes to converting to a new rating, petty officers often go through the Perform to Serve re-enlistment approval system, which ranks sailors up for re-enlistment by rating, paygrade and years of service.
But that requires a sailor to be within a year of his end-of-service date.
"I realize that PTS has a negative connotation because of the [low re-up approval rates of the] last couple fiscal years," Roux said. "The reality is the program was originally set up to move sailors from overmanned ratings into undermanned ratings, and it's already really returned to that primary focus over the past year."
Roux said it's his desire that all conversions go through PTS, but he realizes that's not always possible, given where a sailor is in his career.
For that reason, the service also offers the chance for sailors to avoid PTS and apply for lateral conversions by applying directly to community managers, providing they are within a year of rotating from their current billet.
Regardless of the method used to convert, Roux said communication between community managers is the key to sailors getting exactly what they want and increasing their chances of continuing their career in uniform.
If applying for conversion through PTS, sailors should apply for the maximum of three ratings to enhance their chances of getting picked to convert.
"It's up to commands and individuals to ensure that sailors are fully qualified for what they're applying for," Roux added. "The biggest sticking points are usually [ASVAB] test scores not being high enough to qualify, as well as having security clearance in ratings that require it."
Tips for the nonrates
At any given time, the Navy has roughly 12,000 sailors who are basic airmen, seamen and firemen enlisted as part of the Professional Apprenticeship Career Track program.
Those sailors primarily fill the bulk of junior billets in deck and air departments, as well as augmenting the engineering force with basic watch standers.
But unlike the Navy's old general detail sailors of 10 years ago, these sailors come to the fleet with an enlistment contract guaranteeing they'll get plugged into a rating by the time they are two years into their initial fleet assignment.
All get two weeks of basic community-based training in aviation, deck or engineering skills and then go to the fleet in search of what their actual rating will be.
"The average sailor is getting rated at the 16-month point, so we're actually doing really well here," Roux said. "Those who don't, usually fall out because of disciplinary action, or they've become unqualified for ratings because of other reasons."
Here, as with petty officer conversions, the major stumbling blocks to getting rated are test scores and security clearances.
Officials have focused hard on ensuring sailors have the best chance at finding a rating home. Each month, they list on the Web every rating that has openings for these entry-level sailors, allowing sailors to apply for up to three choices.
"We project out two months worth of quotas on the website at any given time, but we rework them again each month so sailors can adjust their applications based on our needs," Roux said.
Sailors can get into a rating one of three ways.
They can attend an "A" school, pass a Navy-wide advancement exam or be designated by commands.
Roux said commands need to take more advantage of this last method.
"For a majority of our rates, there is no A school required, so those sailors don't have to wait for the advancement exam if the command has a billet and that sailor has been working in that billet."
Community manager approval is still required, but Roux said if the commanding officer recommends it, the manager will most often approve that request.
Too many commands hold out for "that A school graduate," Roux said. The belief is that these sailors are already fully trained, something Roux said isn't true.
"I understand that, but the reality is that kid who's been doing the job for a year is miles ahead of that A school graduate in their knowledge level of the rating and the mission of the command."
Officials also try to accommodate sailors who find themselves on the wrong apprenticeship track and allow many sailors to switch among the airman, seaman and fireman programs.
"We generally need those PACT sailors to strike for ratings in their [initial concentration] area, so we take each request to switch on a case-by-case basis," Roux said.
But again, the key is the command effectively communicating the reasons for its request to the community manager.
"We look at that every month, and we try to be as liberal as we can," he said. "If the command comes in and tells us the sailor has been working in that job for a year, we'll let them switch because it just makes sense, as the captain knows better what the talents of that particular sailor are."