GOOD VS. GREAT: Credentials are intended to enhance an workforce member’s knowledge of a particular functional area—either through a broader understanding of the functional area, or specific expertise in one aspect of the functional area. (Photo by Getty Images)
Credentials help acquisition professionals to tailor their education and training to their careers, but credentials are not the same as certifications.
by Jacqueline M. Hames
Lifelong learning is the backdrop for the Back-to-Basics acquisition framework. The ultimate goal is to have a workforce that is highly trained and skilled, and constantly learning the latest information and best business practices for each functional area (previously called career fields).
Back-to-Basics is “the best example of continuous learning intent that I’ve seen in my career, and that is largely because of credentialing,” said Scott Greene, chief of the strategy and communications division at the Army Director of Acquisition Career Management (DACM) Office. Credentials are focused functional blocks of training—they are separate from, and not required for, functional area certifications.
In the past, the acquisition community struggled with training that was “front-loaded,” meaning that employees received required training all at once. Training often included knowledge or skills that weren’t necessary or wouldn’t be put to use until much further along in a career. However, the Back-to-Basics framework seeks to remedy that issue with less upfront training and more time to accomplish it. There is also an abundance of as-needed training through defense acquisition credentials, largely focused within a functional area.
“With Back-to-Basics, we lessened the overall certification training requirements to make it more tailored and focused,” Greene said. “The tailored part comes in with credentials, which is really that supplemental, functional-area-specific training that’s really necessary—but not required—for you to be an expert in your position.”
While credentials are not required at the DOD level, supervisors, component or functional area leaders can direct acquisition professionals to acquire them for their position.
HOW WE GOT HERE
“Back-to-Basics is a movement, not a moment,” said Scott W. Bauer, director of acquisition human capital initiatives (HCI) at Defense Acquisition University (DAU). Updating the framework was a once-in-a-generation event, he said—the last time it was updated was 30 years ago. During the implementation of Back-to-Basics, HCI managed union obligations, undertook policy revisions to synchronize law and policy, and were ambassadors in the strategic communication campaign. HCI was formerly a direct report to the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment but, as of May 2021, “grew roots” with DAU and now falls under its purview.
“At the strategic level, Back-to-Basics puts the learner in the driver’s seat,” Bauer said. “This will require individuals to be more intentional about their training.” Acquisition workforce members, in communication with their supervisor, will need to make determinations about what training or credential to take next, he explained.
Aaron Hutson, chief of strategy and policy at the DACM Office, emphasized that Back-to-Basics is a big culture shift. “[We’re] trying to instill a culture of lifelong learning and continuous learning at the point of need. Then, trying to push that to the workforce, to our supervisors, to be mindful of that,” he said.
WHAT’S A CREDENTIAL?
A credential—or, more formally, a defense acquisition credential—“documents the knowledge, skills and abilities to perform a DOD acquisition-related function, skill or set of tasks,” according to DAU. They provide the workforce with in-depth training for a singular functional area as well as cross-functional training for several functional areas.
“The main difference between DAWIA [the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act] certification and the Defense Acquisition Credential Program is that certification is required by law and policy, while credentials are not,” Bauer said. Credentials were initially created as a set of requirements determined by the functional area leads to address specific functional area needs or gaps. “Currently, DAU has deployed more than 40 credentials in a range of areas.”
Earning a credential means that an acquisition professional will complete several courses that comprise the credential’s requirements. According to the DACM website, members have one year from enrollment to complete the components of a credential. Once all the components are complete, the credential’s validity starts, and usually lasts 3-4 years before needing to be renewed, according to the DAU website. The renewal period is about six months, during which the student must complete the renewal requirements to maintain the credential.
These credentials are intended to enhance an workforce member’s knowledge of a particular functional area—either through a broader understanding of the functional area, or specific expertise in one aspect of the functional area. They complement the functional area’s basic training requirements and allow employees to spread their training out over time so that skills and knowledge, once acquired, can be implemented immediately.
COURSES AND CREDENTIALS
DAU has several “learning delivery options” in its training portfolio: instructor-led training, virtual instructor-led training or online training, Hutson explained. Online training is self-paced and may include videos and other tools. “Most of the credentials are online training,” Hutson said. “Somebody registers for the credential, but then they must also register for each individual course within the credential.” The virtual instructor-led training and instructor-led trainings have enrollment limits, based on demand. People wanting to enroll, he continued, should do so as soon as possible.
This culture of “continuous learning may involve more ‘elective learning’ that may take the shape of expanded learning modalities,” Bauer said. “For example, traditionally I may have taken a course to learn about additive manufacturing. But now I may be able to participate in a workshop, listen to a podcast or watch a video to gain the same understanding at a time that works best for me,” versus only taking a structured course. There are more learning tools available to accommodate students’ different styles of learning.
For those with acquisition-coded jobs, credentials also earn members continuous learning points (CLPs). CLPs—required for all employees whose jobs are coded as acquisition—may be awarded for completion of acquisition academic courses, training courses, professional activities, or professional experience. That can include authoring an article in a professional publication such as Army AL&T magazine. The policy on continuous learning for the defense acquisition workforce requires that each workforce member (military and civilian) earn 40 CLPs every year, and 80 CLPs being mandatory within two years.
DAU breaks down CLPs for credentials into three parts: DAU course requirements, other credential requirements and completing the credential itself. The workforce can earn CLPs not just for the actual credential, but also for a course within the credential’s requirement. “You don’t have to focus all of your 80 hours on credentials. It’s just a perfect opportunity and way to meet that intent,” Greene said.
CLP Cycle Reset
The CLP cycle begins again soon for those whose jobs are classified as acquisition under DAWIA. The new cycle will run from Oct. 1, 2022 to Sept. 30, 2024. Points from the last cycle do not carry over. Everyone begins at zero and, over the next two years, will need to earn 80 CLPs. Be sure to add creditable courses to your individual development plan on the Career Acquisition Personnel and Position Management Information System (CAPPMIS), so that CLPs can be tracked.
The CLP “notional glide path,” a recommended pace for earning CLPs, to help stay on track is available on the DACM website. Go to https://asc.army.mil/web/clp-glidepath.
“Anyone needing or wanting training that’s either required or desired from Defense Acquisition University has three methods to take it,” Greene said—through DAU, through an equivalent provider, or via fulfillment, which enables individuals to demonstrate in writing how they believe they have met the course learning objectives through their education, training and experience.
Bauer said that if an acquisition professional who believes previous training, education or experience meets a specific course’s objectives, that person can submit a fulfillment package within their organization—if it meets the criteria, then the professional may receive credit for the DAU course. “There are also agreements with some universities, colleges and commercial entities to provide equivalences for DAU courses,” Bauer added.
“The Army, for example, partners heavily with the Naval Postgraduate School,” Greene said. “It’s where we send a good amount of our officers for an acquisition-focused technical master’s degree. So when our officers go there for that, they’re also getting a lot of DAU equivalent training mixed in.”
As the Back-to-Basics movement unfolds, the intent is that the workforce will be able to grow and expand with it.
The culture of continuous learning “puts the onus on the individual and the supervisor to identify which credentials [the employee] should take,” Greene said. It is incumbent upon them to become more knowledgeable within their functional domain. CLPs help workforce members to stay on track and take advantage of this new learning framework. The expanded timeline for certification within a functional area allows individuals to take the training they need when they need it, he explained.
“I think it’s a really good opportunity for the workforce to free themselves up a little bit, to own their piece of the pie and their learning at the right time,” Hutson said.
For more information on the Back-to-Basics framework, go to https://asc.army.mil/web/dacm-office/back-to-basics.
JACQUELINE M. HAMES is an editor with Army AL&T magazine. She holds a B.A. in creative writing from Christopher Newport University. She has more than 10 years of experience writing and editing news and feature articles for publication.