When do you transform the Army? The answer is: when you are at war and have the resources and ‘real-world classrooms’ to test things out. When do you build the bench and needed competencies in the Corps of Engineers? The answer is: when you have the largest workload since World War II, and maybe in our history, and the resources and ‘real-world classrooms’ to train the next generation and test things out.
To move from “Good to Great” (which I define as: delivering superior performance in all missions; setting the standards for our profession; having a unique, positive impact on our Nation and other nations; and building a Corps to last) we need âLevel 5â leaders and the right people, disciplined people, on the Corps’ bus and in the right seat on the bus. We need to be âArmy Strongâ at all levels, from entry level to the most experienced, with a good balance of diversity – age, ethnicity, gender, and education. We need leaders in their field, certified as Professional Engineer and Project Management Professional, and licensed to professionally practice their craft.Â
Context: we have the largest workload; an aging infrastructure; an aging workforce with thousands of âBaby Boomersâ eligible to retire in the coming years; a shortage of college graduates with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math; and, meanwhile, other countries, like China and India are graduating approximately three to five times as many engineers per capita as we are in the U.S.
Many of you have probably heard me talk about the walnuts and rice jar, walnuts being the big priorities. Well, improving our technical competency is a walnut. We have a limited period of time because of the workload created opportunity, 3-4 years, to turn the trends around and build the force â âBuilt to Last!â
We have already begun to take a number of initiatives.Â We recently held a National Technical Competency Workshop at our headquarters in DC, in which representatives from academia, private industry, contract partners, customers, and professional societies, as well as teammates from each division and headquarters senior leaders tackled the major challenges we face on this issue.
Some of the initiatives weâre considering address training and equipping our current workforce, recruiting at the national, regional and local level, and motivating students to study math and science.
Regarding the current workforce, we want to ensure USACE employees are challenged and growing the skills they have, by giving them the right amount of technical work to do.
We also want to help our teammates achieve the technical certification in their career field. Weâll be considering a âbeefed-upâ Training with Industry program, and looking for opportunities to bring the trainers into USACE. That may include more frequent use of virtual training programs, where appropriate.
We could use a more structured mentoring plan, to make sure our employees are getting the guidance, support and training they need throughout their career lifecycle.Â I hope to foster an environment where the staff is part of a lifetime of learning and teaching.
And, we need to be diligent with exit interviews, when our teammates leave the organization, to gather that anecdotal information about how to better retain our quality staff members.
Looking to the future, we have to become the employer of choice for new graduates, or even for established professionals who are looking for that mid-term career change.Â We have to make sure people know what we do and what opportunities exist within the Corps.
The New Orleans district is leading the way and setting a high bar in this arena.Â They are networking and building relationships with faculty at universities, deans of engineering schools, and professors who are tapped in to the skills and strengths of particular students. Of course, this will supplement, not replace our traditional recruiting at career fairs and other âdirect to studentâ efforts.
We are going to target our recruiting more appropriately to the specific competencies we will need in the future, as a result of our “gap” analysis.Â Â So, weâll seek out specific skills, such as geotechnical or GIS, and reach out to students and institutions with those strengths. To be âBuilt to Last,â we have to have people who are masters in their trade, as well as pentathletes.Â Â
Â For those of you familiar with Jim Collins book, Good to Great, this is the beginning of getting the “flywheel” in motion. We are just getting it started, and as we continue to focus on improving our technical competency and building a bench of disciplined people, we will gain momentum.