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How the US Military and Uber can Help Us Solve the Staffing Crisis

Sep 28, 2022 2:02:09 AM / by Jon Trout

US Military and Uber Solve the Staffing Crisis

The US Military and Uber have both adopted processes and tools that allow them to maintain needed staffing levels, empower their workforce, and ensure they are able to operate with precision.  

Onboarding and Training

From the moment I stepped off the bus at the Navy Recruit Training Command inGreat Lakes, IL, I embraced the process of removing ambiguity; this process was really about enforcing clarity and consistency in everything I did. Because that clarity and consistency was enforced upon everyone, the process also enforced alignment amongst a group of people who had never met before, coming from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.  It was an intense experience and something I didn’t realize would shape my outlook for the remainder of my life, especially in my civilian career.  

USS John L Hall FFG-32

The US Military’s process allows them to hire almost anyone, regardless of prior training, education or work experience and make those people productive and effective in a very short amount of time.  In 2021, the US Navy brought in more than 40,000 new recruits.  A startling number when you consider this is just one branch of the US Armed Forces. The US Army target was more than 50,000 in the same year.

How is the Navy able to recruit, onboard, and train 40,000 people per year? How can it maintain one of the widest hiring pools in the country and continue to execute on operational objectives with continued precision while using people that have no experience? First hand, I can tell you there’s two cornerstones to their success:

  1. A focus on training and qualifications
  2. Reliance on checklists and documented processes

When it’s time to execute, the training prepared us for the work and the checklists - processes provided the clarity for every task at hand. This process begins immediately as you step off the bus and is reinforced everyday with a scope ranging from uniform inspections to scheduled  arms training and combat in the most volatile circumstances. 

Of course the military’s approach to onboarding, training and its acute level of clarity are difficult to accomplish in the same manner by private companies.  However, by adopting a military mindset and approach, they could expect to increase efficiency in order to improve their business by measurable amounts.  This is at least ONE reason private companies should consider pursuing veteran candidates to join their team!  

Real-time Creation of Skilled Labor

Another company that I follow closely and have spent a great deal of time researching is Uber.  From my perspective, both Uber and the US Military have proven they can take an incredibly diverse pool of candidates and create their own skilled workforce.  There are approximately 2 million people in the US Military1 and anywhere from 4-5 million Uber drivers2. Uber added an impressive 640,000 drivers to their network in 20213 alone.  Of course, the critical nature of the work in the Military differs from that of an Uber driver, but it is fascinating to see how they are both able to create a skilled labor supply so quickly and efficiently.  

Uber rideshare illustration

While the US Military’s approach involves removing ambiguity and enforcing clarity for readiness and culture development - Uber’s approach focuses on clarity to create and enable skilled labor in real-time.  The criticality of Uber’s mission allows them to rely less on preparation and more on what we call In-the-Job-TrainingTM (IJT).  Uber revolutionized an industry by combining the 4 key elements of operations and made them clear and precise for both the driver and the end user:

  • When is the driver going to pick you up?
  • Where is the driver picking you up?
  • Who is the driver?
  • What task are they going to perform? 

Every operations leader in the world is focused on aligning these same elements in their organization. Uber did this so well they were able to create an on-demand skilled labor supply.  Could you imagine being a cab driver in Boston, or New York? In addition to working in the ambiguity of not having the four elements listed above, there are a number of additional fees and requirements that must be met. In New York a driver must attend taxi school, register fingerprints and provide an approved medical record. Yet almost overnight, Uber unlocked an entire labor pool allowing almost any of us to become effective cab drivers with no experience by simply aligning and clarifying those four key elements for the drivers and the riders.

Solving the Skilled Labor Shortage

While Uber and the military onboard by the thousands, the rest of the country is facing a massive skilled labor shortage. Currently, in the US there are more than 10 million job openings4!  The hiring challenge is even more prevalent in the mission critical and technical service industries, and here’s why:

  1. Lack of traditional education programs to create a labor supply pipeline
  2. Increasing complexity required to perform assigned tasks
  3. Rapid industry growth

In Uptime Institute’s Global Data Center Staffing Forecast 2021-2025 they reported 50% of those surveyed were facing staffing and hiring challenges.  The report predicts global data center staffing will increase from 2 million full-time equivalents in 2019 to 2.3 million in 2025.  This is an increase of 300,000 people who are not prepared to perform mission critical tasks5.  

"Operators are setting minimum requirements, but staff don’t need a university degree or even a trade school qualification. These can be substituted for equivalent experience," according to Rhonda Ascierto, Uptime Institute.  "Companies should take a long hard look at their minimum requirements. Data centers tell us they cannot find qualified candidates for jobs - but if they dropped that word "qualified", what would happen?" 5  

The data center industry simply cannot wait for schools to start coursework in DC operations, or wait for the people entering the industry today to gain five to ten years of experience.  Instead, we need to unlock a labor pool. By turning our focus to the same cornerstones the US Military uses, (i.e. training and checklists) we can start removing the ambiguity and thus enforce clarity in order to hire less experienced people and turn them into effective qualified professionals.  


So how do we solve the problem?  If we look at the success of both the US Military and Uber we can see the same key component to their shared operational success - clarity.  Organizations that focus on providing absolute clarity will be able to fill positions faster and empower their team with growth opportunities all while ensuring precise execution of a well-defined mission. 

Operational Management Systems can help an organization provide the clarity needed to scale their operations.  For example, these systems can help provide the same level of clarity Uber provides their drivers:

  • When: Right now? Every 3 months? Every 8 hours?
  • Where: Which site? What is the specific asset?  
  • Who: Internal team? Vendor? Are they qualified? Are they up to date on their training?
  • What: What work needs to be performed? Can they follow a checklist?

The US Military’s approach to training and onboarding should also be a part of your operational management system.  When your training and onboarding programs are aligned with your work planning and delivery systems you can begin to change the way you approach hiring and staffing allowing you to build a staffing pipeline as you grow. An Operational Management System can enable the empowerment of your team using methods such as: internships, apprenticeships, outsourcing, and on-demand resources.  

In summary, the key to solving the hiring and staffing challenges is an integrated system that allows you to:

  1. Develop training programs and automate onboarding. 
  2. Plan and assign work with visibility across your entire organization, customers and vendors.
  3. Create digital MOPs and SOPs via checklists and have real-time visibility as work is being performed.  
  4. Evaluate and measure the results of the work and team performance.
  5. Easily identify areas for improvement in training, processes and operational methods.
Jon Trout

Written by Jon Trout

Jon Trout is the Founder and CEO of Chekhub, Inc. US Navy 2002- 2008

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