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'It's like Uber for the work force': IMA leading innovative talent management initiative

Gig Eagle is a Total Force initiative designed to connect commanders and program managers with short-term needs with the people with the right skill set, availability and desire to work on a project. (Graphic by Anthony Burns)

Gig Eagle is a Total Force initiative designed to connect commanders and program managers with short-term needs with the people with the right skill set, availability and desire to work on a project. (Graphic by Anthony Burns)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Reserve Citizen Airmen across the country have taken Air Force Reserve Command Commander Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee’s directive to reform the organization to heart; perhaps none more so than Col. Michael McGinley.

An individual mobilization augmentee currently serving as the Innovation Advisor to the Military Deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon, McGinley has spent the last four years focusing on how to bring agile talent employment to the Department of Defense.

“My overarching vision is to revolutionize talent management not just within the DoD, but in the entire federal government,” McGinley said during a recent interview. “Our leaders have told us they want us to be bold and take risks, so that’s what we’re doing.”

While serving on active duty as the director of the Defense Innovation Unit’s Boston office in 2017, the colonel started to envision a real-time talent marketplace platform that would link mission stakeholders with the right talent at the right time, regardless of location.

“My ‘Aha’ moment actually came in 2018, when I left my office and used my phone to grab an Uber to get to a crosstown meeting,” he said. “Sitting in the Uber, it hit me like a ton of bricks – if the commercial technology exists to match rider demand with supply, why can’t we do the same with talent management in the DoD.”

McGinley’s vision for an Uber-like talent management app has grown to become Gig Eagle – a Total Force initiative designed to connect commanders and program managers with short-term needs with people with the right skill set, availability and desire to work on a project.

“Although the DoD is getting more adaptable, talent access still follows a traditional three-year PCS (permanent change of station) tour or extended MPA (Military Personnel Appropriation) mindset,” McGinley said. “There’s little, if any, ability to scan the entire DoD and identify the best short-term talent for a mission.”

Using precision talent-sourcing algorithms, Gig Eagle will allow program managers to identify the right person for a specific, short-term task based on skill set. Also, it will allow DoD members to instantly receive and sign up for missions, regardless of location or relationship to the sponsoring unit. Gig Eagle participants will work on tasks in four-hour blocks of time, from any location.

McGinley provided this example of how Gig Eagle works: A manager working on an artificial intelligence project needs to understand the latest in neural network optimization. No one in his office has this expertise. Using Gig Eagle, he submits a request for a neural network expert with an advanced computer science degree to work for 12 hours to provide one white paper and a one-hour brief. The deliverables are due in five days. Gig Eagle searches its data base of 2.87 million DoD personnel and finds 500 artificial intelligence experts. Of these, 50 have the capacity and availability to handle the assignment. Five of these are interested and volunteer. The manager chooses one of the five, and that person is approved for 12 hours of work.

The colonel said Gig Eagle is being developed in three phases. The first iteration will focus on unlocking the talent of the Reserve Component.

“It just makes sense to target our Reserve and Guard forces first since they possess expertise in countless areas in their civilian jobs and they have a great desire to serve,” he said. “It helps that the DIU Gig Eagle team is stocked with rock star innovators like Col. CJ Johnson, Col. Chris Jordan, Lt. Col. Chuck Kubik, Maj. Jonathan Hudgins, Maj. Ray Sandifer and Maj. Eric Snelgrove. Their collective accomplishments in the public and private sectors are incredible – just take a look at their LinkedIn profiles. The fact that these leaders are Reservists is important. Their understanding of Reserve Component user needs is second-to-none.” 

The second iteration will expand the Gig Eagle talent pool to select active-duty members, civilians, members of the Individual Ready Reserve and other DoD personnel. The third iteration will further expand the talent pool beyond existing DoD employees, opening up access to the world’s best non-DoD talent.

"It is also worth noting that DIU is staffing its Gig Eagle prototype effort with significant private-sector experience,” McGinley said. “I felt like I was in an MBA classroom learning from seasoned executives like Jeff Klugman, Matt Swindle, John Duselis, Heather Ichord, Sarah Pearson and Rob Mishev. Honestly, it's a real privilege to be able to work with these people."

Gig Eagle is a true joint initiative. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition recently transferred ownership of the Gig Eagle program to the U.S. Space Force to begin the prototyping effort. The Defense Innovation Unit is leading the prototype development, spearheaded by Scott Sumner. The Space and Missile System Center’s Talent Management Office, led by Aine Nakai, will run day-to-day Gig Eagle employment. The initial user cohort will consist of members of the Reserve Components from the Air Force, Marine Corps and Army. AFWERX and SpaceWerx are also supporting the program.

Brig. Gen. Shawn Campbell, the Deputy Chief Human Capital Officer for the Space Force’s Chief of Space Operations at the Pentagon, believes Gig Eagle is a great fit for not just the Space Force but for all of the Department of Defense.

“Gig Eagle falls directly into one of the concepts by which we are building the Space Force because we are trying to become the first truly digital service,” Campbell said. “We see Gig Eagle as a great way to connect people who have certain competencies or capabilities to unique problems or challenges. The Space Force is proud to run the beta test for Gig Eagle this summer and we’re confident it will be a valuable tool for us and all of the DoD.”

McGinley said agile talent employment and the Gig Eagle app are critical for DoD’s success in today’s rapidly changing environment.

“Our senior leaders have repeatedly said that the creativity and talents of our people is our greatest strength,” he said. “We need to have a flexible and agile system to unlock all the special skills and potential our people possess.” #ReserveReady #ReserveReform     ■