First-term airmen will have an easier time finding a new Air Force job

The Air Force is dangling a new carrot for early career airmen who might be tempted to leave: almost any job they want.

Starting June 1, all qualified first-term airmen — those serving under the initial contract they signed to join the military, which lasts four to six years — can apply for a new job in any Air Force career field where more than 10% of the positions are unfilled, the service said in an April 28 release.

That also applies to people looking to leave fields that are less than 90% staffed. The Air Force did not immediately answer how many career fields fall below that threshold, or how many first-term airmen are currently serving.

It’s the service’s latest move to improve quality of life and boost retention as it faces staffing shortages in multiple key fields, from special operations to maintenance, amid a historic recruiting crisis.

“Glad to see us make this change,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in the release. “Providing these opportunities for our airmen helps us keep talent on the bench.”

Retraining opportunities aren’t new. But the new approach tries to remove some of the hurdles that have prevented people from easily switching jobs.

Typically, the service keeps a list of career fields that are accepting newcomers and another list of fields that people are allowed to leave. Now, positions will be offered to qualified airmen from any field on a first-come, first-served basis, until those slots are filled.

No longer will first-term airmen have to face a selection board to vie for a job or wait for approval to leave from their chain of command.

To qualify, airmen must fall into an eight-month span of time known as their “retraining window.”

For airmen with four-year contracts, that window opens at two years, 11 months in uniform and closes at three years, seven months. For those with six-year contracts, the window runs from four years, 11 months to five years, seven months in uniform.

They must also meet the medical, job aptitude and fitness standards required of the field they want to join.

The Air Force will decide whether to continue the initiative once a full year has passed.

Bass hinted that the service is preparing to offer new flexibility in other areas as well.

“Expect to see more initiatives like this as we evolve our policies and talent management to focus on the force of the future,” she said.

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), the Washington Post, and others.

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