How the NGA plans to solve the GEOINT expertise gap

The U.S. intelligence agency in charge of producing geospatial data and analysis for the national security community has a problem: geospatial expertise is in short supply.

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency faces a shortage of potential employees with the expertise needed to carry out the organizations mission said Stacey Dixon, NGA 's deputy director.

“The fact is that geospatial intelligence is in many ways highly specialized and requires very specific skills,” said Dixon at a United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation event Sept. 28..

Part of the problem, according to Dixon, is less overlap between industry and the government.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of places that perhaps used to hire and wanted to have folks with these types of degrees in industry that no longer need them the same way they did before, but the government, we with our mission, do continue to need those,” said Dixon. “The specialists in those areas (...) are in short supply, or at least they are in our agency right now.”

And that has compounding effects on the workforce. While academia provides education in some geospatial disciplines, others are falling by the wayside, Dixon said. Geomatics, geodesy and photogrammetry are all examples of the highly specific skills that the NGA needs but is seeing its popularity dwindle at universities. The agency is working with some schools to boost geospatial intelligence education, but the trend is going in the wrong direction.

All of this means that as geospatial intelligence experts retire, the NGA is struggling to replace them, Dixon said. To combat the problem, the NGA is undertaking a number of initiatives to increase the level of geospatial expertise in the workforce.

One is developing online, on-demand training for its workforce to fill the gap left by industry and academia.

“We’re actually working with universities to create that curriculum so that we can actually have our workforce learn and prove their skill sets and then develop that talent from within,” said Dixon. “We think that’s going to help us with some of these niche skills.”

The agency is working to build six courses, four of which will be recorded and made available on-demand. That on-demand programming will allow the NGA to reach more people. It’s also less disruptive than sending employees to universities to learn, although the agency uses that tactic as well.

Additionally, the NGA has had success in using its internship program to build a young, skilled workforce. Over the summer, the agency had more than 250 interns. That’s important as Dixon said as many as 80 percent of interns end up working for the agency full-time.

The agency wants to build on that success by reaching out to younger students at the high school level, she added.

The agency also has a nascent program where it sends NGA employees out into the private sector on a temporary assignment. That effort ties into a broader goal of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to make it easier for employees to move between the intelligence community and industry.

“We want people to be able to go out and then come back in,” said Dixon.

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