The Navy is pulling the trigger on radical changes to the way it trains the entire enlisted force.
Gone will be the days of long, upfront technical training known as Class A school: the one that can last up to two years and for many sailors is the only trade-school training they will get during a 20-year career in the Navy.
Instead, the new regimen will include a far-shorter stint following boot camp that will be whittled down to just what sailors need to succeed in their first tour. Sailors will get to the fleet far sooner — and with far less preparation — than with traditional A schools.
After that, additional training will be spread over a sailor’s career, coming in blocks given each time a sailor returns to sea. The new model will make enlisted training more closely resemble that of officers, who receive professional military education and career-specific training at various points throughout their careers.
The Navy’s new training system, which starts this year for several ratings, will involve less brick-and-mortar schooling and more distance learning. It will aim to keep sailors more abreast of the cutting-edge technology impacting their career field. And it will give the Navy more agility to revamp and modernize training for future missions.
"We are developing a career-long learning continuum where training is delivered by modern methods to enable faster learning and better knowledge retention at multiple points throughout a career, just as we do for officers," said Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the chief of naval personnel.
The end result, Burke said, will transform what he calls the current "industrial, conveyer-belt-training model" into career-long training where "content is refreshed for changing technologies so sailors are ready to perform on day one at their new units."
The new, truncated A schools will be on average about 30 percent shorter, than those that sailors attend today. Yet for many career sailors, the new regimen will actually increase the total amount of training and education they’ll receive during a Navy career.
The Navy calls it Ready Relevant Learning, and considers it a critical piece of the ratings modernization effort announced last year. That effort included the Navy’s controversial decision to eliminate sailors’ ratings, a move that the top brass reversed in December after months of criticism.
Nevertheless, Burke and other top Navy leaders plan to push ahead with structural reforms aimed at a similar goal of making Navy career paths more flexible, which include breaking up traditional A school into a series of training blocks spread over many years.
Over time, the Navy hopes the training pipeline will provide customized training and development for individual sailors, allowing sailors to train and qualify in an array of skills outside their own rating’s traditional career path. That, in turn, will open up new duty assignments, advancement opportunities and civilian certifications.
The biggest change of all may be the decision to transfer responsibility for most of the training to the fleet. Today training is mostly overseen by Naval Education and Training Command, but in the future, the NETC’s oversight will end after a sailor completes their initial schools on the way to their first sea tour.
That’s a big challenge — and potential pitfall — for the fleet, Navy officials say.
WHO GETS IT AND WHEN
The transformation of the training pipeline has been in the works for a few years, but it wasn’t until the start of fiscal year 2017 in October that the Navy received the funding to set it in motion.
The implementation will start this year as sailors in four ratings begin to train in the new system, and 15 additional ratings could get the go-ahead later this year.
Another 34 ratings are in the early stages of development and will gradually come online over the next three years Navy officials say.
By 2020, a majority of Navy’s 87 ratings will be training sailors under the new format.
The seed of the concept has been around for decades and stems from the model the Navy currently uses to train pilots throughout their careers.
When aviators and flight officers wrap up shore duty and get ready to head back to the fleet, they go back to flight school for a refresher course to get current not only in flying but in the latest technology as well.
Nothing like that happens for most sailors, who might spend three years pushing boots at Great Lakes or recruiting, and are then sent right back to sea with the expectation that they will pick up where they left off.
The time required for them to get back up to speed reduces readiness, top Navy officials say.
"The concept is called block learning," said Rear Adm. Mike White, who commands Naval Education and Training Command and has helped spearhead development of the new custom career paths. "We take today's curriculum [for each rating] and look at it from that lens of: When would it best be delivered across the first tour and across a career? We will then break it apart and deliver it at the appropriate time."
Sailors will get "block zero" during their initial pipeline training on their way to their first sea tour, White said. Block one would occur during the first sea tour, block two would be their second sea tour and so forth.
The individual training blocks completed by sailors will be tracked with a new Navy database that will allow the Navy to have full visibility on its human capital and help detailers to assign sailors in the most effective way.
‘We will need to … create a single, authoritative database that captures a sailor’s combination of NECs, experience and proficiency — a snapshot of their DNA," CNP Burke said.
As Navy officials draw up new training plans for individual ratings, take a close look at not only what skills sailors will need in the fleet, but also when they will need those skills.
For example, one of the first ratings transitioning to the new model this year is logistics specialist. Those sailors are the Navy’s supply clerks, but they’re also responsible for the mail system — collecting, sending sorting and delivering the mail.
Currently in A school, all sailors training to be logistics specialists get postal clerk training before entering the fleet. But, "it turns out that most apprentice LS’s will not be a postal clerk for at least a couple of years in the fleet," White said.
"They spend their first couple years mastering their other duties in the rating before they’re assigned to this kind of work," White said.
That’s why the postal clerk training has been pushed out out into a block that sailors will receive after they’ve served in the fleet for a while. "We believe it is best if you defer that postal clerk training; and then deliver it after a couple years when they are ready to take on that responsibility," White said.
Deferring that block of training, which in this specific case lasts up to eight days, until later in a sailor’s first sea tour saves time and also ensures that knowledge is fresh and up to date when the sailors take on that duty, White said.
Training for tasks that more senior sailors do will be put off to for future blocks of training as they return to sea for second and third sea tours with the same idea of ensuring the skills are fresh and they have been taught the most current information.
Right now, White said, about 53 of the Navy’s 87 ratings will fit well into this block training construct. But that leaves 34 ratings to wrestle with how to put their skills into a career-long learning construct.
One such rating is air traffic controllers.
"They need to come out with essentially their FAA qualification so that they can go be part of an air traffic control team," White said. "That was not one we could give them half the training up front and half later because they had to leave the schoolhouse ready, so we did not see a way to block that curriculum."
Now, down the road, this effort may give us some tools to help improve the way they learn, but, it just did not fit the mold of the premise of Ready Relevant Learning."
What happens to these ratings, remains to be seen, but officials tell Navy Times the long-term goal is to provide all sailors with career-long training opportunities, though much may need to simply evolve over time.
Today’s junior sailors are used to using technology in all aspects of their lives. That means that the Navy is looking at quite a wide range of possibilities when it comes to delivering training to sailors.
This doesn’t mean that traditional brick and mortar schools are going away. Instead, it means that schools could be augmented with high-tech tools that help sailors learn by using gaming and virtual reality along with traditional book study.
These high-tech tools could be made mobile, making training available to sailors at the waterfront without having to send them miles away from their homes and commands.
To help the Navy develop new and more effective training, White said they’ve turned to the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division out of Orlando, Florida, where Navy officials are already at work developing the next generations of training technology.
"They are leading the effort to now visit the classrooms that we teach those ratings in today, and do a little bit of a knowledge capture and analysis of that training — should it continue to be instructor led? Do we have modernized delivery methods with computer simulation, or gamification, or other opportunities that would increase the retention of knowledge?"
One such technology is what he calls the Multi-Purpose Reconfigurable Training System, something that’s already in the fleet being used by the submarine community.
Simply put, this is a room of large, flat, touch-screen displays, White said. Those displays can simulate a torpedo room on a Virginia Class submarine in the morning and be re-booted in the afternoon to be a submarine radio room.
This system can be installed permanently in a schoolhouse or configured as mobile training platform, put into a trailer and drive down the pier to provide the training where the sailors are, he said.
In addition, he said, the service is also looking at other options for training, such as applications that can be accessed on personal smart phones and tablets.
Already the service has begun to offer such apps that teach some General Military Training topics. But this is expected to expand to other areas in the future, officials say.
Mark D. Faram is a former reporter for Navy Times. He was a senior writer covering personnel, cultural and historical issues. A nine-year active duty Navy veteran, Faram served from 1978 to 1987 as a Navy Diver and photographer.