Training with Industry program brings best practices from private sector to Army acquisition
By Mr. Robert E. Coultas
Sometimes the best way to further an Army acquisition career is to get out of the Army—but just briefly. The Training with Industry (TWI) program is helping Army acquisition officers do just that, providing competitively selected officers with extensive, hands-on exposure to managerial techniques and industrial procedures at 10 companies across the United States, including Amazon.com Inc., Intel Corp. and Coca-Cola Co.
“Performing well in your job and demonstrating you can do this consistently over time in all of your [acquisition] assignments will best posture an officer to progress,” said Lt. Col. Christopher Schneider, chief of the Acquisition Management Branch at U.S. Army Human Resources Command (HRC). Acquisition officers can receive training, experience and certification in five DOD acquisition career fields (ACFs), including program management; contracting; systems planning, research, development and engineering – science and technology management; information technology; and test and evaluation. The Army’s expectations for acquisition officers include developing functional expertise in at least two ACFs and widening their individual experience and knowledge through various unique assignments.
TWI is just one of many dynamic training programs offered to acquisition officers. But unlike other career-broadening experiences, TWI completely integrates military officers into civilian corporations.
AN ELITE OPPORTUNITY
TWI is a 10- to 12-month rotational opportunity for acquisition officers in grades O-4 and O-5 to work and train full time at top civilian companies, with the objective of bringing back the latest commercial business practices, organizational structures and cultures, technology development processes and corporate management techniques—then translating these into better Army acquisition outcomes in future assignments.
“This program is a tremendous opportunity to learn and incorporate best business practices from our industry partners,” said Schneider. “Bringing different perspectives to the table when problem-solving or conducting acquisition planning is always a good thing for the Army.
“Selected officers are expected to represent the very best of the U.S. Army, and as a result the screening process is extensive and thorough. Only our highest-performing officers are selected for this program,” he said.
After their TWI assignment, officers are assigned a position validated from the Military Acquisition Position List. Some of the preferred assignments include contractor logistics support (CLS) product manager; CLS director or commander; product director; DOD, DA and assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology staff positions; Army systems coordinator; nominative acquisition program manager (APM); and special mission unit (SMU) – requirements, SMU – contracting and SMU – APM.
After submitting the initial application, the TWI candidate consults with his or her assignment officer to discuss professional background and interests. Depending on the officer’s previous assignments and educational background, the acquisition officer may be a good match for more than one company.
“As an acquisition assignment officer, I am tasked with identifying and developing talent,” said Maj. Cornelius Allen of HRC. “TWI is a very selective nominative position that we assign high-performing officers to as a broadening assignment. … This exposure benefits the Army as officers incorporate industry best practices into DOD processes and the companies gain customer insight and valuable advice on the DOD acquisition process.”
Participating TWI companies also provide information on what backgrounds they are seeking—for example, an engineering degree, Lean Six Sigma training, an MBA or specific experience gained in past assignments. HRC’s Acquisition Management Branch conducts a review board to select an officer for each of the 10 positions available each year. The Army’s deputy director for acquisition career management approves the selections.
According to Scott Greene, chief of the Acquisition Education and Training Branch at the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center (USAASC), there’s more “rigor” and a more challenging board process than in the past. “Two years ago, our selection rates were at 80-90 percent. Last year, they were at 50 percent. We expect this year to be in the 30-40 percent range, which is good. That means more people are applying for the positions, and it means that there’s more competition—and it means that the best officers are getting accepted.”
EYE ON THE PRIZE
Greene said the Army expects TWI officers to go to their companies with their acquisition backgrounds, learn as much as possible, contribute and cooperate as full team members at the companies, making TWI “hopefully one of their best assignments.” Then, he said, they are expected to bring some best practices back to the Army—not just for themselves but also for their leadership, peers and subordinates.
“They’re putting on their own acquisition hat and looking at how their [TWI] company does business in a different way, possibly more efficient, more effective—maybe not—and then taking a step back and looking at acquisition and how we can do things differently.”
Greene said that the TWI participant’s focus should be on immersion in the company’s culture and business practices. Participants should also dedicate themselves completely to their assigned projects. An officer considering the TWI assignment as a “break” from normal duties has the wrong attitude, he said. “If you’re coming into it with the mindset that it’s a relief and you’re [going] to have more free time or knock out a bunch of training, that’s not the intent. This is supposed to be not only your best assignment, but it’s supposed to be a very challenging one, too,” Greene said.
Companies that partner with the Army in TWI are developers of innovative, cutting-edge technologies as well as established leaders in their respective fields. Those currently participating are Amazon, Boeing Co., Cisco Systems Inc., Coca-Cola, CSC, Airbus Group Inc., General Dynamics, Intel, Lockheed Martin Corp., and Microsoft Corp. The acquisition officers get a wide range of experience in their respective companies, in contracting, logistics, program management and budgeting, among other fields. They also get a different perspective from the Army way of doing business.
Greene said that the current TWI program includes Amazon as a new industry participant, maintaining the practice of partnering with nondefense, outside-the-box, pioneering companies. “We found that nondefense companies seemed to resonate with our officers more than defense. These defense companies tend to mirror the government. And if we’re sending officers to train with industry to gain industry best practices, sending them to defense companies doesn’t seem to do that much.”
VOICES OF EXPERIENCE
Today, alumni of the program continue to apply the knowledge and skills gained in TWI in their current acquisition leadership roles.
Brig. Gen. Robert L. Marion, program executive officer for aviation, called TWI “a really valuable experience for me. I didn’t immediately realize just how valuable the experience was at the time; I was too busy doing the best job I could do” at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. from mid-2001 to mid-2002. “Afterward, when I was back working on the government side within a project office, I began to fully see the impact of what I had learned, especially how our requests to industry affect and shape operations from their perspective,” Marion said.
Lt. Col. Christopher M. Ford, product manager for Terminal High Altitude Area Defense ground components in the Missile Defense Agency, said his TWI experience has numerous applications on a daily basis. “TWI broadened my knowledge and understanding of defense contractor corporate processes, business decision methodology, corporate behavior and internal management challenges. Thanks to my TWI experience, I am better equipped to successfully coordinate with my industry counterparts to manage program risks within cost, schedule and technical parameters to deliver an overmatch defensive capability to the Soldier.” Ford’s TWI assignment was at EADS North America (now Airbus Group) from July 2011 to June 2012.
“My Training with Industry experience at Lockheed Martin gave me unique insight into the care and operations of products assembled and sent forward. While at Lockheed Martin, I witnessed the spectrum of operations from strategic to assembly-line procedures where I could see the care and complexities of rapidly fielding equipment,” said Maj. Jerry R. Mize, deputy director of the Acquisition, Logistics and Technology Directorate, 402nd Army Field Support Brigade (AFSB) at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. “After arrival to Kuwait, I more fully recognize the impact of partnering with industry and how industry is rolled into program manager operations in warfighter support,” said Mize, whose TWI assignment ran from August 2012 to June 2013.
TWI continues to see growing interest and excitement about the program, Greene said. “We’ve gotten great feedback from the companies and officers who have participated in it, and we’re looking to grow and possibly include piloting a noncommissioned officer, a contracting officer, at a new company as well as expanding potentially two to three slots for officers in the future. We just see this continuing to grow, because we’ve seen great value in it.”
For information on the TWI program and the companies involved, go to https://asc.army.mil/web/career-development/programs/aac-training-with-industry. To apply for TWI, contact your assignments officer. For other inquiries about TWI, contact Marti Giella at 703-805-2700 or firstname.lastname@example.org; or Scott Greene at 703-805-1229 or Scott.Greene4@us.army.mil.
MR. ROBERT E. COULTAS is the Army AL&T magazine departments editor and an Access AL&T editor. He is a retired Army broadcaster with more than 40 years of combined experience in public affairs, journalism, broadcasting and advertising. He has won numerous Army Keith L. Ware Public Affairs Awards and is a DOD Thomas Jefferson Award recipient.
This article was originally published in the July – September 2014 issue of Army AL&T magazine.
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