Sustainability includes a stable workforce, involved community
August 11, 2009
<i><b>In part two of the series, the program manager discusses the vital role community plays in sustaining the armed forces</b></i>
Community involvement is an indispensable component of the Army system.
"Thinking globally and acting locally" is elemental if we are to "operationalize" sustainability awareness and ethics into all our actions.
The Army's strategic goal to enhance the well-being and quality of life of the community extends well beyond technology.
As part of a system, "community" encompasses Soldiers and their families, the civilian workforce and its families, and the local population, as well as businesses and corporate interests that have an economic stake in the region around an installation.
Maintaining a qualified civilian workforce is mission critical for all installations.
Employment of local workers directly benefits the garrisons and the community beyond the fence line.
In the Pacific Region, some workforce issues associated with the recruitment and retention of qualified civilians are especially challenging. The region is the most physically and culturally diverse of all the Army regions, and hiring and maintaining an experienced workforce is an important objective identified in each garrison's strategic sustainability planning.
From tropical Hawaii to arctic Alaska, to the Far East, the region's garrisons share similar sustainability challenges to operationalize sustainability, reduce operating costs, develop alternative energy sources, design Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified buildings, and develop more efficient ways to conduct business.
Although Pacific Region garrisons vary in mission and operation, they share similar challenges affecting the civilian workforce: geographic isolation, cultural differences, high cost of living and misperceptions about the work environment - which often deter prospective employees.
For example, the misperception that Alaska is a frozen wasteland is a major discouragement to recruitment. While the "last frontier" culture in Alaska appeals to some, the scarcity of services in Alaska is a significant disincentive to many potential civilian employees with families.
Maintaining an experienced workforce is an ongoing challenge across our region. Compounding the issue is the high permanent change of station (PCS) cost to transport employees from a continental U.S. (CONUS) duty station to Alaska, Hawaii and Japan, and the periodic turnover of staff at the end of their initial assignment.
The five-year rule limiting overseas assignments also hinders long-term sustainment of an experienced workforce by forcing turnover of experienced employees.
U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii faces similar challenges. Although climate is not an issue for most prospective employees, the relatively high cost of living and the physical remoteness of the islands from the mainland are major factors in deterring qualified professional personnel.
Similar to Alaska, a tendency among students is to graduate and leave the islands for "greener" pastures on the mainland, "in the lower 48," thereby limiting the availability of local professionals.
Hawaii's very different way of life, with an incredible mixture of cultures on the island, is attractive to some, but this cultural diversity can be a disincentive to some people.
"Island fever" is a further issue for some people who find living on a small island to be claustrophobic. Similarly, the U.S. Army Garrison-Japan experiences workforce recruitment problems due to its physical remoteness from the United States.
The challenges presented by working in a foreign country are similar to the challenges in Hawaii and Alaska. For example, in Japan, East-West cultural differences accentuate the physical remoteness.
With a system's perspective and a sustainability lens, Pacific Region garrisons have incorporated long-term sustainability objectives - to recruit, train and maintain experienced managers and staff - into their strategic planning process.
Efforts to sustain the workforce and ensure adequate human resources to perform our mission are critical to Army sustainability efforts. Without an effective workforce in place for the long haul, our ability to continue the mission into the future will be in jeopardy.
<i>(Editor's Note: David Zuckerman is the sustainability program manager for the Housing Branch of Installation Management Command-Pacific.)</i>