Downsizing requirements and the ever-changing needs of the fleet are placing severe demands on the U.S. Navy's Education and Training Command. Through it all, the command is maintaining a steady course.

Its a familiar story: Performance-driven organization must maintain its workforce at peak levels and meet retention goals while coping with budget cutbacks and an unyielding "do-more-with-less" mandate. The U.S. Navy, Naval Education and Training Command faces these challenges every day, and it is meeting them with military precision.

What began a decade ago with an initiative called "Revolution in Training" has brought the Navy to an enviable point. It has created a holistic approach to learning and development that embraces the career and personal growth of sailors while meeting the Navy's need for versatile professionals.

The strategy also embraces a broad array of best practices that rival anything seen in the private sector. The results speak for themselves.

Rear Admiral Joseph Kilkenny, commander of the Naval Education and Training Command in Pensacola, Florida, summarizes the approach: "We are using learning and development, skills training, professional education, well-rounded assignments, voluntary education, and occupational certification programs, as well as the Navy's online credentialing opportunities, to provide the right sailors with the right skills at the right time."

In today's Navy, he says, every sailor is encouraged to make the service his career. A human capital management system dubbed a "career roadmap" identifies each sailor's competencies and matches them with compatible job descriptions. The process begins on the day an individual joins the Navy with the establishment of a personal and professional career guide that will be used throughout by the sailor, career counselors, supervisors, and mentors. "There is no second guessing," adds Kilkenny.

A cornerstone of the strategy is a leadership continuum that offers development opportunities and tailored leadership training that begins early in a sailor's career. A progression roadmap includes leadership education and experience milestones that are required for advancement at specific promotional junctures. Personal financial management training and tuition assistance support are part of this optional program.

Perhaps no single initiative better exemplifies the Navy's modern approach to training and retention than its strategy to create credentialing opportunities online known as "Navy COOL." The integrated, robust, and highly visible program offers sailors the opportunity to gain civilian certifications that correspond to their Navy ratings, collateral duties, and out-of-Navy assignments. Individuals in more than 95 specialties can gain such recognized certification licensing. More than 1,700 civilian certifications are now funded.

"The Navy benefits from sailors with increased proficiency through gaining and maintaining industry-recognized skills," explains Kilkenny. He says the service discovered that students who took part in a continuing education or apprenticeship program had a retention rate of 94 percent compared with only 54 percent for those who had not. The message: Invest in your people and they will remain with the organization.

The optional Navy COOL program is just one example of the Navy's learner-centric strategy aimed at encouraging sailors to invest in their personal and professional development. To ensure that they understand their training and education requirements and opportunities at every career stage, the Navy has developed learning and development roadmaps for each of its 100-plus occupations. They enable sailors to self-evaluate and monitor their milestones en route.

The results are easily measured. About 31 percent of personnel in their first enlistment with no college education remain with the organization. For those who seize educational opportunities, the re-enlistment rates climb to 37 percent if they have 15 college credits and hits 55 percent for those with 60 college credits.

The training and development programs are succeeding despite a fiscal landscape that is becoming more severe for all elements of the Navy. "We are committed to making cost-cutting moves that won't impact the efficacy of our training," says Kilkenny. "We will continue to provide well-qualified individuals to meet the ever-changing requirements of the fleet."

One obvious handicap facing the Navy and every other military branch is the inability to make horizontal additions of expertise and leadership. All experience comes from the maturation of an entry-level workforce. Following basic training and other indoctrination, sailors begin their training in one of the many different specialties, and select from the array of educational opportunities.

Expectations are high. Off-duty education programs give sailors options to achieve their personal goals, affect job performance positively, and therefore improve opportunities for promotion. Individuals entering with a high school education can complete an associate degree in less time than the traditional student since many academic institutions consider military training and experience when evaluating requirements needed to complete a degree. Courses are provided at remote sites throughout the world and are available through distant learning partnerships with colleges and universities. Last year, the Navy spent more than $87 million in tuition assistance.

The Navy's aggressive adoption of blended learning technologies as it transitions from brick and mortar arguably outpaces the private sector. Online courses, interactive virtual classroom training, simulations, and the latest in game-based and virtual learning are among the assortment of delivery methods employed to improve learning while also meeting budget and time-to-proficiency constraints.

For example, the future of 3D immersive training is on display at the Navy's boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois. The Navy's Virtual Environments for Ship and Shore Experiential Learning project (VESSEL) enables recruits to make instant decisions within virtual environments that involve highly instructive crisis situations.

A "digital tutor" pilot launched in 2010 leverages work by Silicon Valley IT experts to model computer-based learning for the next generation of IT personnel. Skills used by instructors to teach and adapt to individual students have been incorporated into a form of artificial intelligence, enabling one-on-one teaching in a computer-based environment.

Regardless of the training delivery method employed, learning's link to individual and organizational performance is measured at every opportunity. One such effort employs permanently assigned teams to evaluate individual and team performance across several organizational units. They assess both the transfer of formal classroom training and on-the-job training.

In one occupational area, for example, a bundling of computer-based training with instructor-led refresher training has resulted in a decrease of non-graduation rates by 95 percent. Per-student time to train was decreased by 38 days, and training cost-per-student was decreased by 35 percent.

To help ensure that training remains aligned with the fleets needs, a process called the Human Performance Requirements Review is employed. All courses regularly undergo this review to ensure that the right training is delivered via the most appropriate method at the right time in an individual's career. The process also eliminates redundant or unnecessary training and monitors fleet requirements to determine if any new or added training is required.

Yet the search for such efficiencies continues at a relentless pace during this time of fiscal restraint. Reduction in content development costs, especially in the maintenance of aging courses, is another of the myriad efforts under way.

Leaving no stone unturned, the training command recently contracted for an energetic enlisted supply chain business improvement effort. "The outcome of this effort will refine our student training processes, retool our training systems, and find efficiencies in our student training production lines," says Kilkenny. "This will further enhance training effectiveness and increased on-time delivery of trained sailors."