Command confronts challenges in filling contracting positions
October 15, 2009
Although the nation is experiencing unemployment levels not seen in decades, Army Contracting Command continues to face a challenge when it comes to recruiting qualified contracting specialists at the mid and senior levels.
The command must fill more than 1,000 jobs in 2010 and continue to meet future ongoing requirements, and to help do this, the command has put together a corporate recruitment strategy to meet the challenge of filling those positions. It's imperative for the command to become more aggressive in its recruitment posture to meet the attrition, plus ups in the command, intern hiring and Congressionally-mandated increases.
"It's the command's strategy and vision to develop a recruitment team that can address the need of recruiting top notch acquisition professionals," said Copper Perry, strategic human capital planner in the Army Contracting Command's G-1 (Personnel).
"Team members command-wide will attend two days of Office of Personnel Management sponsored training that involves how to promote jobs with the Army, familiarization with hiring authority regulations, flexibility and incentives so that when they are on a recruiting trip they will have the tools, they need to address the concerns of possible recruits. This team will look at entry-level hiring, but will also focus on helping us fill jobs at the mid-level and those hard-to-fill jobs in the Expeditionary Contracting Command and other locations"
The need for contract specialists is not just an ACC or Army issue. President Barack Obama has addressed procurement reform in speeches and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced his plan to increase the size of the defense acquisition workforce by converting 11,000 contractor positions and hiring an additional 9,000 government acquisition professionals by 2015 - beginning with 4,100 in fiscal year 2010.
The reason for the low level of contracting personnel has its roots in past personnel reduction decisions.
"It's predominately because of cuts to the 1102 (contracting specialist) community in the past during downsizing periods," said Sandy Swynenberg, deputy, ACC G-1 (Personnel). "They realized they cut too deep and now we have to bring the numbers back up. We also need more 1102s because of the increase in the business that we do and there simply aren't enough people to currently go around."
"We are a nation at war and that has increased our mission in so far as contracts," said Col. Debra Fix, ACC G-1 (Personnel). "It's a war where some of our older methods do not apply. It's a different way of doing business as today most things are contracted for. There's more of a holistic look at how we resource the war fighters than we did in the past."
The recruitment strategy is geared to support local efforts as well globally.
"We're not looking to circumvent what is being done locally," Perry said. "We are more interested in enhancing their (local ACC commands) capabilities to help the command attract and hire valued applicants on the whole. Our intent with centralized corporate recruitment is not to interfere with what organizations are doing locally, so whatever job fairs they are going to they will continue to go to. We are looking to supplement them with training and materials."
According to Perry, in addition to attending job fairs and posting available jobs on the web, the team is looking at innovative ways of reaching potential employees. These include partnering with professional organizations, private industry, colleges and universities and even other Army and federal agencies.
Another tool is the recruitment web site, www.Armyhire.com. The site was established to target a younger workforce interested in careers in contracting with the federal government. The site's focus will be adapted over time to attract the mid-level and senior-level acquisition professionals.
The command has also been selected to conduct the pilot Department of the Army Contracting Fellows Program where it will hire 25 of the best and brightest to become contracting professionals and train them to be the future leaders in the Army's contracting career field. Once they have completed the four-year program, they will have four years of training, experience and education and will have earned a masters degree.
"There's a current void out there but we still need to grow our own for future requirements," Fix said.
Another tool being used to fill the void at lower and mid-level grades is the use of the expedited hiring authority.
The expedited hiring authority is the ability to directly hire qualified individuals quickly by circumventing some of the time consuming practices within the conventional federal job application hiring process. It eliminates some of the disadvantages at job fairs by now allowing authorized personnel to make a tentative job offer on the spot, pending verification of the applicant's qualifications.
"We've hired 30 using the EHA since the first of July but we have many more that are in the process of coming on board," Swynenberg said. "It took a while to get it going, because like anything else, it's a new process with different requirements on our part and within the HR (Human Resources) community. I think it will help us get to where we want to be.
"We're using programs such as the Contracting Intern and the Future Acquisition Student Training Programs, as well as EHA as 'feeder' sources to help us reach the end state. The DA interns are not part of our employee strength numbers. Once they complete they training we can bring them on board and they would count against our numbers," she said.
"There's a lot of competition for acquisition professionals," Fix said. "I'm confident that with the tools we are putting into place that we will see a growth in the contracting field and we will attract qualified and talented individuals to serve their nation."