WASHINGTON -- This year has been eventful for the Army Talent Management Task Force, said its director, as the Army’s “war for talent” continues into 2021 equipped with data-driven programs meant to find and retain top talent, including an online marketplace for thousands of officers.“2020 has been the year we’ve demonstrated what it means to make people the Army’s No. 1 priority,” said Maj. Gen. J.P. McGee.Last year, Army Chief of Staff Gen. James C. McConville named the Army’s people as his topmost concern, placing talent management front and center. Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy then announced people as the service’s top priority during his annual address in October.Despite facing a pandemic, the task force was still able to roll out multiple new programs in support of this priority.“2020 has been a rough year for everyone, but when you look at the Talent Management Task Force you see how we’ve taken the chief’s No. 1 priority and made it a reality,” McGee said.Talent alignmentIn the past 15 months, the Army has helped more than 30,000 active-duty officers find ideal assignments with a new system designed to match the needs of Soldiers and incoming units.The Army Talent Alignment Process program, or ATAP, is a decentralized, regulated, market-style hiring system that aligns officers with jobs based on preferences that kicked off at the onset of fiscal year 2020.Around the same time, the Army also unveiled the Assignment Interactive Module 2.0, a user-friendly bridge to ATAP that helps Soldiers find assignments, while also giving them more authority to interact with individual units they want to align with.The data collected in the marketplace, from both officers and receiving units, have helped the Army identify the preferred locations and skills needed where officers want to serve, he said, adding it benefits both individual Soldiers and the service.“We're able to show that the Army can run a system based on officers’ preferences, [along with] the needs of the Army,” McGee said. “This has been an effective way to get officers where they want to be.”Command assessment programsAnother new way to track down talent has been the Army’s Colonel and Battalion Command Assessment Programs, or CCAP and BCAP. The five-day, in-person assessments have helped find officers with the best fit at the command and strategic levels.The Army has run multiple command assessments, he said, starting with one BCAP at the beginning of the year, a CCAP in September, another BCAP that started in October, and more scheduled next fall.During the first BCAP in January, officers only had to worry about the required events like a physical test, written and psychometric test, and a double-blind board of senior leaders intended to reduce unconscious bias. Then the pandemic happened.“We had to run [the programs] in a COVID-19 environment,” McGee said. “To do this, we had to develop a very safe and consistent approach to mitigate the virus.”For example, officers were tested and screened upon arrival for COVID-19, they used rental cars instead of buses to maintain social distancing, their movement was tracked, and the Army brought in an independent group of Soldiers with the sole purpose of enforcing compliance measures.Enlisted talentAn enlisted version of the command assessments, the Sergeants Major Assessment Program, was held last month at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The program, which involved 28 sergeants major, is being developed as a new way to pick command sergeants major.Although in its early stages, the Assignment Satisfaction Key-Enlisted Module, or ASK-EM, also gives ranked assignment choices “in some form of market-based approach” for noncommissioned officers between the ranks of staff sergeant through master sergeant for the 2021 enlisted manning cycle, McGee said.The task force’s efforts are not limited to the officer corps, he said, adding “they should all gain a lot of steam in the next year.”Soldier feedback underpins talent management, the general said, which is why they launched the Department of the Army Career Engagement Survey in May. The survey takes roughly 15 minutes to complete and is intended to give Soldiers a voice, directly and anonymously.As of last week, roughly 31,000 respondents have taken it. This survey “seeks to solicit the input from all Soldiers, [sent to them annually] on their birth month, to find out how they feel about the Army,” he said.Brevet promotionsA pilot program also started this year for the Brevet Promotion Program, which selects officers for temporary promotion to the next higher rank in a critical billet. Once they pin on their new rank, they will keep it until they complete the assignment or officially become promoted, McGee said.The program was authorized by the fiscal 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. In addition to manning critical assignments, it also incentivizes retention of those officers whom the Army has invested in.In all, 225 brevet promotions were identified during fiscal 2020, with more than 170 completed by the end of fiscal 2020. In the future, lawmakers have green-lit 770 positions as fillable for the Army through the program, “including 100 colonels, 200 lieutenant colonels, and a lower number of majors and captains,” he said.All those positions are included in the ATAP marketplace in AIM 2.0, and only officers who are brevet promotion eligible have visibility to the various assignments.Talent Based Career AlignmentThis year, McGee and his team also rolled out the Talent Based Career Alignment, or TBCA, as another tool to retain the Army’s top talent earlier in their careers, he said. In addition, Army leaders plan to retain roughly 2,000 of its best officers from every promotion cycle.To do this, TBCA was established as “a pathway that guarantees a follow-on assignment [after completing the Captains Career Course and a company command] contingent upon continued high levels of performance,” he said. In essence, “it allows officers to know their career pathway from the Captains Career Course to their attendance at Intermediate Level Education.”Currently, there are 21 volunteers in the pilot phase of the program.With this career option, officers may have a better chance at receiving an assignment that interests them. From either being a professor at West Point, serving at “The Old Guard,” or to rising to the challenge of being part of the 75th Ranger Regiment, he said.“[TBCA] breaks the mold that says all captains are the same when [they are treated] the same,” McGee said. “We’re saying we're going to find the most talented and we're going to fight for the retention of our most talented captains earlier.“Second, we’re able to spot talent earlier and earlier based on our ability to run analytics,” he added. “This program assures we invest in our best talent early, let them know they have a guaranteed assignment leaving [Captains Career Course] and then a guaranteed follow-on assignment that effectively takes them to the General Command Staff College.”As 2021 approaches, McGee plans to build on lessons learned in the past year, he said, to win the Army’s war for talent and continue retaining the best Soldiers.“The Army, specifically senior leaders, are very serious about moving us into a 21st century talent management system,” McGee said. “We need to be ready to fight large-scale combat operations in the future against near-peer threats. Due to that, we need to maximize our strengths and one of our true strengths is our people.”Related links:U.S. Army Talent ManagementArmy News ServiceARNEWS archivesFollow Thomas Brading on Twitter