JMC brings new employees aboard with its AMPED program to develop a workforce that’s energized, committed and engaged.
by Ms. Erica Slattery, Ms. Heather Tahja and Ms. Nicole Kirschmann
Faced with two challenges—a big chunk of its workforce nearing retirement age and a growing number of new hires—the Joint Munitions Command has rolled out a new training program that’s increasing connection and motivation among new and existing employees.
Launched in January 2015 and based on research conducted across the JMC workforce, the Achieving Maximum Professional Employee Development (AMPED) program is designed to welcome new employees and show them the breadth and depth of JMC—the organization, its mission and its people.
Shifting demographics have resulted in increased hiring at JMC headquarters in recent years, prompting a corresponding exploration of onboarding practices that culminated in the creation of AMPED. From FY12 to FY14, 40 new employees were hired at JMC HQ; in contrast, 71 new employees were hired during FY16 alone. By FY21, approximately 52 percent of the current HQ JMC workforce (353 out of approximately 670 civilian employees) is projected to be eligible for retirement, said Norbert Herrera, JMC’s deputy chief of staff for human resource management. With projected increases in attrition in FY17 to FY21 because of dramatic rises in retirement eligibility, it is critical for the organization to continue efforts to recruit, develop and shape the future workforce.
With this in mind, said Herrera, the command set out in 2014 “to implement programs and practices that help us develop a highly trained, diverse, inclusive and adaptive workforce who embrace change and maintain a standard of excellence. This begins with efficient and effective onboarding of new employees.”
JMC developed the AMPED program to create a positive first impression, acclimate new employees, shorten the time it takes for them to become productive members of the organization, and demonstrate commitment to their personal and professional development. Before AMPED, new employees would shadow their counterparts to learn their specific mission workload. Many new employees remained unaware of the various other missions and core competencies within the enterprise.
To bridge this knowledge gap among newer employees who have not yet gotten acquainted with the breadth of the mission, JMC identified the fundamental competencies, such as team building, required for new employees to understand JMC’s mission, vision, goals and objectives, and developed the AMPED program curriculum.
STRATEGIC RESEARCH DETERMINED THE COURSE CURRICULUM
Beginning in 2014, AMPED program managers conducted focus groups, interviews and surveys across several demographic groups at JMC: new employees, those in the middle of their careers, senior experts, supervisors and senior executives. The goal of these assessments was to identify the topics and elements that would most benefit new JMC employees. About 160 employees gave input in focus groups and interviews, and 400 surveys were collected from the workforce. The program managers also researched similar programs used in private industry and by other Army organizations to identify successful benchmarking and best practices.
This research pinpointed four main subjects that all new employees needed to know, regardless of position title, series or JMC assignment location. Those topics include onboarding and acculturation; JMC 100-series; the language of ammunition; and common competencies. Within each main subject area, the AMPED program managers developed curriculum topics based on employee and supervisor feedback. Onboarding and acculturation includes personnel policies, career management, workforce dignity and respect, personal image, business etiquette, and how to be a cyberwarrior. The JMC 100-Series covers topics such as how JMC runs, lines of operation and core mission competencies, while the language of ammunition covers the life cycle and purpose of JMC commodities, from small-caliber bullets to large bombs. The final main subject covers competencies common to most workplaces: leader development, professional writing, staffing, team building, time management, conflict resolution and presentation skills.
The AMPED program is currently held on a semiannual basis, with classroom training half-days on Monday through Thursday for several weeks. The curriculum also includes travel to two JMC subordinate installations: a government-owned, contractor-operated facility and a government-owned, government-operated facility. The part-time class schedule provides new employees the time to take the onboarding training, while also having enough time to be integrated with their respective teams and apply their new knowledge. AMPED classes can accommodate up to 25 students, which provides more opportunities for effective group exercises and increased student engagement.
The AMPED program managers are currently analyzing the program and are constructing a new version of AMPED that will be released in fall 2017 and will be exportable to JMC subordinate installations across the JMC enterprise.
New JMC employees say they have found AMPED to be a refreshing change from the typical onboarding programs in place at other government civilian jobs. “Having transferred from a different command, I was blown away by how well-organized and passionate the facilitators were when discussing each and every topic,” said Joseph Klunder, JMC execution inventory manager who completed the AMPED program in 2016.
CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT REFINES AMPED EXPERIENCE
AMPED program managers strive for continuous improvement through the use of feedback and suggestions collected from surveys, after-action reviews and other forms of communication. The AMPED program relies heavily on qualitative and quantitative questions posed in program surveys that are collected at the conclusion of each module. Thus far, 111 new JMC employees have graduated from the AMPED program, and 97 percent give the program a positive rating.
For AMPED program managers, the biggest lesson learned is to remain flexible. Each cohort includes a range of personal, professional and military backgrounds, so it is important to canvas the audience before each session and make course curriculum adjustments if necessary. For example, a cohort with more military experience might not need to spend as much time on military “greening” as a cohort in which very few participants have a military background.
Also, supervisor endorsement of the program is imperative. New employees need to commit to attending and participating in the entire program in order for it to be optimally successful. Supervisors should encourage full attendance and work with employees to maintain a manageable workload during that time. Each new employee is also assigned a sponsor, typically a teammate who assists the new employee with issues such as orientation to the team. Sponsors of new employees should also be in touch with the new employees throughout the course of the program to gauge program effectiveness and employee feedback.
Another AMPED best practice is to strategically incorporate site visits, hands-on activities and games, in addition to traditional classroom briefings and small-group discussions, throughout the program as both a check on learning and a relationship-building tool. Reinforcing the material through hands-on activities helps engage employees and offers an opportunity for them to better understand and apply the information that was taught. AMPED program managers recognize that each employee is unique in how he or she best learns, so AMPED has been strategically designed to accommodate different modes of learning. The goal is to provide foundation-level knowledge through an informative, comfortable and fun environment. Instructors facilitate games such as Jeopardy, sports games that tie in with the season the class is held, and scavenger hunts throughout the JMC building. All games and exercises reinforce learning and provide team building, relationship building and networking opportunities.
The site visits provide students with opportunities to see and experience the JMC core competencies of produce, store, distribute and demilitarization that were studied in the classroom setting. Incorporating fun checks on learning into the curriculum has paid dividends: in post-program surveys, students rave about their AMPED experiences and frequently name these non-traditional methods of instruction to be their favorite parts of the program.
AMPED-UP DEVELOPMENT FOR EMPLOYEES
One benefit of the vigorous training program is increased professional development and engagement from both new employees and their established co-workers. AMPED has encouraged a culture of continuous learning and knowledge-sharing at JMC. Senior leaders, supervisors, sponsors, mentors, co-workers, peers and human resource professionals have volunteered to develop and instruct classes, conduct learning reinforcement activities and provide avenues for new employees to get to know the organization’s leaders and experts.
The positive results are a strong motivator to pitch in, said Jim Seward, JMC business transformation analyst who is also an AMPED instructor. “The program focuses on showing all employees where they fit into the enterprise mission and emphasizes to new employees how they are integrated into the organization. Most training tends to focus on one specific area without making the important connections to show all parties impacted. New employees leave AMPED with a much better understanding of their expectations and with much more confidence and trust in the organization.”
AMPED graduates have approached the program managers to inquire about opportunities to facilitate future classes, expressing a desire to “pay it forward” by offering the same expertise and passion AMPED facilitators showed them during their onboarding to JMC new employees for future classes.
“New and old employees alike will benefit from the AMPED program,” said information technology specialist Joshua Thompson, an AMPED graduate who’s now a facilitator. “First off, the networking alone from meeting new people is a great benefit, as is going to the various mission areas and site location visits to learn more about the JMC core competencies. I also got to speak in front of the class as a facilitator during the next session and help new employees identify more with the JMC cybersecurity mission. The experience from both sides was rewarding.”
The program’s emphasis on team building and networking has led to lasting relationships. Many cohorts still get together inside and outside of work to maintain the relationships and camaraderie fostered during onboarding. “AMPED was an invaluable experience that provided a strong foundation of knowledge that helped me understand my role in the organization and how I contribute to the larger mission,” said Sudan Abdur-Rahman, a general engineer who completed the program in 2016. “In addition, as a new employee who is not local to the JMC geographical area, the AMPED program provided me with a networking forum to build relationships and friendships that have carried outside of the work environment.”
Cohort IV graduated from AMPED in March 2016, and its members, including Michelle Wells, still hold a monthly after-work social. “There was a positive and fun learning environment. Because of that, a number of us have kept up friendships over the last year. Those friendships also help at work: As a new employee, I know people in sections that normally I might not have met,” said Wells, a JMC logistics management specialist.
Another member of cohort IV echoed this sentiment. “Sometimes it’s as simple as knowing the right person to ask the question. Working in the fast-paced environment of operations and planning, it is imperative to know where to go and who to ask,” said Theresa Grindeland, a 2016 AMPED graduate and an ammunition operations program analyst.
“By taking an active interest in professional development when employees come to JMC, we are building a culture of engagement,” said Michelle Timmerman, JMC personnel development and policy division chief. AMPED has proven successful in helping JMC not only build the bench as its workforce ages, but also in keeping employees and supervisors at all levels engaged and focused on career development and mission readiness.
“We anticipate this program will remain sustainable for new JMC employees, and also have plans in place to offer program content to current employees” as a professional development opportunity to fill knowledge gaps, said Timmerman. “The program is not built or meant to be a ‘one and done’ approach. We intentionally developed it this way so that we would have the ability to mold and shape the program to meet current and emerging requirements for our workforce.”
By the end of FY17, the goal is to implement the AMPED program across the JMC enterprise at JMC’s outlying installations in 13 states. Several organizations, including the U.S. Army Materiel Command and the U.S. Army Sustainment Command, have adopted the best practices from the AMPED program and have planned, implemented or improved similar programs for their organizations. AMPED program managers believe that their efforts can help sister commands train and retain an engaged, informed workforce across the Army acquisition enterprise.
For more information, contact Erica Slattery at email@example.com or Heather Tahja at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MS. ERICA SLATTERY is a human resource specialist in the G-1 staff at the Joint Munitions Command (JMC), Rock Island Arsenal, Illinois. She has 13 years of government service and has earned the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Financial Management Award. She has a Lean Six Sigma (LSS) green belt and is currently an LSS black belt candidate. She holds a B.A. in business administration from Augustana College.
MS. HEATHER TAHJA is a program specialist in the G-1 staff at JMC. She has eight years of government service and earned a Commanders’ Award for Civilian Service as well as a Beyond Peer Expectation Award. She holds a B.A. in mass communications from Western Illinois University.
MS. NICOLE KIRSCHMANN is a public affairs specialist at JMC. She holds an M.A. in teaching from Augusta University and a B.A. in English and sociology and a B.S. in psychology from Tulane University. She has 15 years of experience in education and training, including as a DOD contractor working for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Germany.
This article is scheduled to be published in the July-September 2017 issue of Army AL&T Magazine.
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