What kinds of skills does the acquisition workforce need? A new assessment and leadership concept aims to find out.
by Jacqueline M. Hames
Training and development are critical to the health of the Army Acquisition Workforce’s (AAW) 13 career fields. But finding out where the workforce is lacking in competencies—skills and knowledge—can be somewhat difficult, as AAW members from two program executive offices and the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center (USAASC) discovered during a November town hall meeting with Dr. Bruce Jette, the Army acquisition executive, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
An acquisition professional asked, “Is there a database or something of the sort where we can understand the skills gaps in the Army?”
The short answer is no, but there is something in the works.
MANAGING DATA AND PEOPLE
The town hall with Jette, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, covered a wide range of topics on the state of Army acquisition. One of the themes of Jette’s talk was the Army’s need to manage data better, which this particular question emphasized. Jette deferred to Craig Spisak, Army director of Acquisition Career Management (DACM), for an answer on the workforce’s skill gaps.
“The problem,” Spisak said, “is that while we do have a fairly robust database of sorts, a source database for the majority of personnel information, it doesn’t allow us drill down into a lot of things you want to know, like the competencies that are second and third order below. So, I know where contracting people are, I know whether or not they’re certified in contracting, but … the individual competencies a certain person has, we don’t collect that data today in a meaningful way, so that’s where the challenge lies.”
To be sure, developing a data system that could capture all of the dimensions of tens of thousands of acquisition workforce members—to say nothing of the other data that the Army would like to capture—would be an exceedingly difficult task. The acquisition career field categories are broad. For example, how many types of engineering are there? Within each engineering discipline—electrical, chemical, energetic materials, civil and so on—how many variations? How many years of experience does a particular engineer have? How much training under the Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act (DAWIA)? What other skills or knowledge might add to that employee’s abilities? So, in addition to developing a system to catalog and store such data, it first has to be gathered.
GATHERING THE DATA
The Army DACM Office is already hot on the trail of that second- and third-order information, an effort that began when it launched round one of the Competency and Career Development Assessment in 2017 to address gaps in the workforce’s competencies.
Joan Sable has been with USAASC for almost 20 years and took her current post, chief of the Strategy and Communications Division, just recently. She is passionate about the AAW Human Capital Strategic Plan (HCSP), created in FY17, which she manages.
“In that plan, we talk about professional development. We didn’t have any way to assess the professional development of the Army Acquisition Workforce,” she said, so it made sense to launch a competency assessment that would evaluate the AAW in accordance with the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s (OSD) Acquisition Workforce Qualification Initiative. That initiative is an employee development tool that is used to identify specific gaps in job experience, on-the-job developmental opportunities and to capture demonstrated acquisition experience.
Assessment results told the DACM Office how employees in each of the acquisition career fields fared in terms of understanding a skill, the amount of time an employee spent on that skill and the importance of that skill in the employee’s position. “So we learned, per acquisition career field, how they matched up to those workforce qualification initiative competencies” from OSD, Sable said.
The DACM Office provided the assessment data to Army acquisition functional leaders (AAFLs) and acquisition functional advisers during quarterly HCSP council and functional integrated product team meetings.
The Army has functional integrated product teams that represent each acquisition career field. Meetings of those teams enable functional leaders, functional advisers, Defense Acquisition University (DAU) and the DACM Office to address DAWIA certification tenets and career development for each acquisition career field.
AAFLs are Senior Executive Service (SES)-level acquisition civilians who are responsible for the health and management of a specific acquisition career field, while advisers are subject matter experts on a specific acquisition career field who represent the AAFL for that field, as partners with the Army DACM Office, Sable explained. The assessment data will help leaders and advisers better understand the gaps in their designated acquisition career fields, she added. AAFLs and advisers are a new leadership concept that ensures there is SES-level leadership, subject matter expert and DACM Office career development expertise—as a team—focused on the health of the AAW within a specific career field. In addition, there is now specific emphasis on the eight life cycle focuses of human capital, from the beginning to the end of an acquisition career and everything that impacts that career along the way.
IDENTIFY THE GAPS
The second round of the assessment—which workforce members can expect to be launched in the spring of 2019, with full results in the fall—will be targeted at supervisors in order to corroborate the responses on the previous baseline assessment, said Jason Pitts, chief of the Acquisition Workforce Proponency Branch. Pitts’ branch is responsible for coordinating with the OSD, other services and DAU to advocate on education, training and experience standards for certification. If supervisors have acknowledged the same skill gaps that the overall workforce did in the first round of the assessment, then Pitts can confirm a gap has been identified.
Pitts and his team worked closely with the functional leaders to focus the second round of the assessment, soliciting feedback from those leaders on what they needed to know about the workforce. Because there can be numerous competencies in a career field, Pitts asked them to select the top 18 Army acquisition-specific skill gaps from each acquisition career field that they wanted to focus on.
“I think that will give us a really good picture of what the gaps are, by acquisition career field, by grade, which is the key part,” he said. The DACM Office will again share the results with the functional leaders and functional advisers, and with various commands, at the HCSP council meetings and functional integrated product team meetings. “They get to see what the gaps are so they can recommend training to their own people, but at the same time we can use [the results] to shape our centrally run programs and how we use DAWDF [the Defense Acquisition Workforce Development Fund],” Pitts said.
The data that the assessment provides AAFLs will help to inform any decisions regarding their designated acquisition career field, and also understand its current state of health, Sable said. “And if we can understand the health of each acquisition career field … then we can improve the state of health of the overall acquisition workforce,” she said.
Once the assessment analysis is complete and the functional leaders know where the skill gaps are, they can help the DACM Office develop ways to provide education, training or experiential assignments to fill those gaps.
Pitts hopes that in the future, competencies can be added to individual development plans and the Career Acquisition Management Portal, so that supervisors and employees can not only assess an employee’s skills, but also generate reports, though that goal is a few years away. Meanwhile, the DACM Office is working toward improving the health of the acquisition workforce, learning from best practices in other services and industry to help focus their efforts, Sable said.
“So when questions are asked at town halls that were specific like that, we are working toward getting to that point where we have an answer for any kind of question that has to do with acquisition career development,” she said. “We are set up for success and ensuring a trusted team of acquisition professionals.”
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