The U.S. Coast Guard needs to and will do more to “recruit and retain a workforce reflective of the nation we serve,” its commandant, Adm. Karl Schultz, said Thursday in his first annual State of the Coast Guard Address.
Speaking outdoors during an unexpected rain shower at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles/Long Beach in San Pedro, Calif., Schultz put forward a people-centered view of the service, pledging concrete steps to improve recruitment and retention of women and promising a study to look at ways of improving minority recruitment and diversity.
“When asked about our Service, we tend to talk about our missions and operations, or our platforms,” he said. “But if you want to truly understand the Coast Guard, look to the men and women of our Service – they define our strength, our character, and are the foundation of our military readiness.”
Employer of choice
His speech was interspersed with short video portraits of individual Coast Guard officers — and in some cases their families — highlighting the many facets of the service. And it included announcements about efforts to improve retention including restoring tuition assistance to reserve members for the first time in “recent years.”
“The key to Coast Guard success has always been our diverse workforce,” he said, pledging to to make the Coast Guard “an employer of choice” for young Americans from all backgrounds.
Schultz painted a picture of a service whose areas of responsibility like securing the marine transportation system — “the lifeblood of our [national] economic engine — and protecting the nation’s ports put it at the heart of U.S. economic well-being.
He drew a contrast between the modern mission of the Coast Guard — which employs a Port Cybersecurity Specialist at Long Beach and has teams of analysts working to identify and fix online vulnerabilities in critical infrastructure — and its aging fleet.
Modern mission, aging fleet
Some of the service’s Medium Endurance Cutters, are over 50 years old, he pointed out, noting that they will be replaced by a new generation of Offshore Patrol Cutters, or OPCs, “which will be exponentially more capable and accommodating to our mixed gender crews.”
The first OPC comes online in 2021, he said, and the 25 hulls eventually planned will compromise 70 percent of the Coast Guard’s offshore presence.
Schultz said that a study on female retention — undertaken “to understand why the Coast Guard retains women at a disproportionately lower rate than men, and to identify areas for improvement” — would be released next week. But he added that the service was already implementing changes suggested by the data.
“We’ve heard the voices of Coast Guard women committed to both their careers and their families,” he said, announcing a new policy that will use reserve personnel to fill in behind service members on convalescent and caregiver leave, including new parents on parental leave.
Retaining women and minorities
“Now our truly dedicated women can better focus on their families and their well-being without worrying about the impacts of their absence on their workplace and colleagues,” he said.
“One area for improvement and continual focus is our inclusivity,” he continued. “Inclusion allows for the development of the critical bonds that will put us on course to mission success and ultimately, help us maintain our standing as the world’s best Coast Guard.”
He added that “Building on the success of the Women’s Retention Study,” the service “will undertake a similar holistic retention study for underrepresented minorities beginning this spring.”
“I am committed to delivering real change to address important issues to our members – like childcare accessibility, affordable housing, and talent management initiatives to infuse better flexibility and permeability within our ranks,” he said.
Other measures he announced the service was looking at included “easing the existing tattoo policy, removing single parent disqualifiers, and revising outdated weight standards that disproportionately affect women.”
These actions, he promised, would be “the first steps in a dedicated campaign to identify barriers to inclusion, and to help frame solutions that challenge the status quo.”
He called them “small ripples that will lead to a groundswell of cultural change,” urging the service to “Join me in building this tidal wave to ensure all of our members are respected, all of our members are empowered, and all of our members are included.”