It's not possible to give all new Air Force recruits the AFSC (Air Force Specialty Code, or job) they want, even if they're qualified. Each Air Force job has an assigned "manning level," which is broken down by rank. In other words, the Air Force constantly determines how many first-termers they need (airman basic through senior airman), how many staff sergeants the job needs, how many technical sergeants the job needs, and how many master sergeants the job needs.
If an individual doesn't get the job he or she wants, there is the Air Force enlisted re-training program or explore Air Force cross training. But first, there are a few things to understand about the process.
Review of Manning Levels
At least once per year, the Air Force studies the manning levels of each AFSC, and rates each AFSC (by rank) as:
- "shortage," meaning there are not enough individuals doing that job in that rank
- "average," which means the manning level for that job/rank is just right, and
- "overage," which means there are too many people in that rank doing that job.
If the manning level for the first-term ranks (airman basic to senior airman) is projected to be "shortage," they issue "requirements" to the Air Education & Training Command (AETC), who tries to make sure there are enough training seats, and then issues "slots" to the Air Force Recruiting Service. Job requirements for NCOs (non-commissioned officers on their second or subsequent enlistment) are released for possible NCO voluntary and involuntary re-training.
Even if an Air Force job is listed as a "chronic shortage job," that doesn't necessarily mean the job will be open to a new recruit, even if qualified. Such factors as available training seats come into play. Or, the job may be "shortage" overall (because it has a shortage of NCOs) but is adequately manned when it comes to the first-termer ranks.
Additionally, some Air Force enlisted jobs simply aren't available to first-term enlistees. A couple of examples would be equal opportunity, education and training, or Office of Special Investigations (OSI).
Air Force recruiters traditionally address these concerns by informing applicants who don't get one of their primary job choices that re-training is possible after a few years of service. This is where the Air Force Re-Training Program comes in.
Air Force Cross Training and Re-Training Program
The regulation which governs re-training for Air Force enlisted personnel is Air Force Instruction 36-2626, Airman Re-Training Program.
The Air Force Enlisted Re-Training Program can be divided into three major areas:
- Voluntary re-training for first-term airmen who have almost completed their first enlistment period, called CAREERS (Career Airman Reenlistment Reservation System)
- NCO re-training (which applies to those on their second and subsequent enlistment period)
- Disqualified airman re-training (which applies to both first-termers and those on subsequent enlistments)
First-Term Airman Voluntary Re-Training
A first-term airman (four-year enlistment contract) assigned to a CONUS (continental United States) base is eligible to volunteer to retrain after they have completed 35 months (and no more than 43 months) of military service. A six-year enlistee assigned to CONUS may volunteer to re-train after completing 59 months of military service.
For first-termers assigned to overseas bases, they may put their application in between the ninth and fifteenth months before their DEROS (Date Eligible to Return from Overseas Station), as long as they will have at least 35 months (four-year enlistee) or 59 months (six-year enlistee) of service at the time they depart the overseas station.
The only exception to the above requirements is for those volunteering to retrain into the pararescue and combat controller career fields. Such individuals may apply for re-training after 33 months of service (four-year enlistee) or 57 months of service (six-year enlistee). This allows time for the individual to complete the pararescue PAST (physical ability and stamina test) or combat controller PAST, as well as required medical exams to include as part of their re-training application.
Volunteering for Re-Training
Re-training applicants must meet the qualification standards for the AFSC they wish to re-train into (Arrmed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or ASVAB score, medical profile, security clearance, and other qualifications). Applicants who don't meet the ASVAB score requirements can take the Armed Forces Classification Test (which is the same test as the ASVAB, just under a different name) to try and achieve a qualifying score.
To volunteer for re-training, applicants must be eligible and recommended by their commander for re-enlistment. Additionally, if their most recent EPR (Enlisted Performance Report) is rated less than a three, they are ineligible for voluntary re-training. If the report is a referral (which means it contains certain derogatory statements), the individual is ineligible. Finally, commanders must sign the following statement on the individual's re-training application: "Individual’s attitude, behavior, and record indicate a probability of success for re-training. There are no quality factors that preclude this individual from re-training."
As a rule, individuals who have received an enlistment bonus for their AFSC cannot re-train until they have served the entire enlistment period for which their enlistment bonus was based. If they are re-training into an AFSC which has a re-enlistment bonus, this can be waived, but any "unearned" portion of the enlistment bonus will be deducted from any re-enlistment bonus received for the new AFSC.
Career Job Reservations
First-term airmen who wish to re-enlist may have no choice, other than to volunteer to re-train. First-termers serving in jobs which are projected to have "overage" must apply for a Career Job Reservation (CJR). This means that the Air Force is going to strictly control the number of first-termers allowed to re-enlist in this job. Individuals put in a request for a CJR and hope their name gets to the top of the list before their discharge date. If their CJR doesn't come up, and they haven't applied for re-training at least 120 days before separation, they will be forced to separate. Applying for re-training does not cancel a CJR request. So, if an airman applies for a CJR in their original career field and applies for re-training, they can cancel their re-training request if they receive a re-enlistment slot in their original job.
NCO Re-Training Program
The annual NCO Re-Training Program (NCORP) is designed to move NCOs from AFSCs with significant overages into AFSCs with NCO shortages. This program consists of three phases, the first two of which are voluntary and the third being involuntary.
Once per year, the Air Force sends out a general announcement listing AFSCs with significant overages and shortages. The objective is to get as many volunteers to apply in order to fill Air Force requirements. No one is specifically targeted by this announcement, it's just a general request for volunteers to re-train out of specialties shown as "overage" into specialties shown as "shortage." You can see the current list of overages and shortages by visiting the Air Force's Re-Training Page.
If sufficient applications are not received during phase I, the Air Force implements phase II. This phase is a voluntary phase; however, all eligible airmen who are vulnerable to involuntary re-training are formally notified and encouraged to apply. If enough volunteers aren't received, the individual may be selected for involuntary re-training, and they won't get to choose their new AFSC.
In either case (phase I or II), re-training applicants need to understand that applying for an Air Force shortage skill does not mean automatic approval. If re-training applications exceed the number of re-training quotas, the Air Force will disapprove the application.
If re-training objectives for the fiscal year are not met through the voluntary phases, the Air Force will implement selective re-training. Airmen who possess a secondary or additional AFSC in a shortage skill are returned to those skills if in the best interest of the Air Force. If skill imbalances still occur, the Air Staff will direct involuntary re-training into selected AFSC shortages.
If individuals are selected for involuntary re-training, and they refuse to gain the service-retainability needed in order to re-train, they are projected for discharge.
Disqualified Airman Re-Training
Air Force enlisted personnel who are disqualified from their current AFSC, or disqualified during a training program are placed into one or two categories: disqualified for cause, or disqualified for reasons beyond their control.
Disqualified for Cause
Airmen are categorized as disqualified for cause when they no longer meet the requirements for any of their awarded AFSCs, and the basis for withdrawing the AFSC is for conditions or actions over which the airman had control. Examples of disqualification for cause include loss of security clearance due to misconduct, drug or alcohol involvement, failure to progress in training, substandard duty performance, or other acts that lead to AFSC withdrawal or training school failure.
For those in training status, the technical training squadron commander recommends separation or administrative action for airmen eliminated for reasons within their control. Re-trainees who are removed from training for misconduct are not considered for re-training. In such cases, the commander returns the airman to the organization for action or processes discharge action.
If selected for re-training, airmen are re-trained into an AFSC that they (1) are qualified for, (2) have an available class-start date within 120 days, and (3) have a course-length of no longer than eight weeks (40 academic days).
Disqualified Not for Cause
Airmen are categorized as disqualified not for cause who no longer meet the specialty qualifications for any of their awarded AFSCs, and the basis for withdrawing AFSC is for conditions or actions over which the airman had no control. Examples include medical conditions such as hearing loss, toxic chemical exposure, injury resulting in AFSC withdrawal, or failure to progress in training for reasons beyond the airman’s control.
Airmen disqualified not for cause may apply for separation under miscellaneous reasons in lieu of re-training.
Airmen must apply for AFSCs for which they meet all requirements and have a class starting within 120 days. Airmen are encouraged to list, as a minimum, three AFSC choices. If the Air Force cannot approve the choices, the Air Force will provide re-training AFSCs based on Air Force requirements and the individual's qualifications.
Airmen between the 24th and 38th months of service for a four-year enlistee (48th and 62nd for a six-year enlistee) will apply using their CAREERS option, provided the airman is recommended for reenlistment.