Program educates civilian leaders
Vernell Sample checks a child safety seat during as part of her job as safety specialist. Sample said she attends civilian education classes to enhance her leadership skills.

FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- While U.S. armed forces continue to fight wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and help maintain peace around the globe, the nation's military civilian workforce is also growing rapidly.

The Department of the Army in particular, has become the largest employer in the federal workforce, employing about 300,000 civilians, to work alongside more than 1 million active duty, National Guard and Reserve Soldiers.

In response to the increasing number of leadership roles civilians have assumed in support of current operations, the Army has in recent years begun to shift some of its focus from primarily teaching leadership skills to Soldiers, to providing adequate leadership training to civilian personnel also.

In December, the Army released changes to its training and leadership regulation, AR 350-1, clarifying mandatory leadership training for Army civilians in supervisory and managerial positions, and making recommendations for other civilian employees to participate in the training as well.

Sean O'Brian, Fort Jackson's safety director, said he encouraged his staff to participate in the Civilian Education System leadership development program long before the regulation was updated.

"I believe in training and education," O'Brian said. "Continuing education not only allows us to develop enhanced knowledge, skills and abilities for professional development, but it also improves our ability to better support our customers across the Fort Jackson community."

Through the sequential series of courses in the CES program, O'Brian said his employees not only get the opportunity to hone their leadership skills, but they also gain a better understanding of the Army's constant transformation and how to operate more efficiently as members of the Fort Jackson staff.

"The courses teach us how different parts of the Army all fit together," O'Brian said. "We learn how things on both (Army and civilian) sides link together. It helps us do a better job supporting our customers and the command."

Vernell Sample, safety specialist, said the CES courses encouraged her to evaluate and improve her own leadership style.

"The courses helped me identify what type of leader I have been, and what type of leader I want to become in the future," Sample said.

Because Sample had 10 years of prior service as an Army medic, she applied for and received equivalency credit, which allowed her to bypass the first course in the CES series, a distributed learning class designed to orient new employees to the Army. This course is required for all Army interns, team leaders, supervisors and managers hired after Sept. 30, 2006.

Sample immediately moved on to the distributed learning portion of the basic course in April 2009. Six months later, she flew to the Fort Leavenworth campus of the Army Management Staff College for the resident segment of the course. There, she and other direct-level supervisors participated in small group exercises and learned leadership and management techniques to accomplish individual as well as organizational goals.

"The course helped me work on my interpersonal skills," Sample said. "I was forced to fully engage with people. I learned how to better cope with different personalities and how to adapt to different situations similar to what I may face in my job."

According to the updated AR 350-1, all Army civilian supervisors and managers are required to complete the basic course during their first year in a supervisory position. They are required to complete the intermediate and advanced courses before the completion of two years in a supervisory position.

Sample said she is eager to begin working on the distributed learning portion of the intermediate course. She said she expects to travel to the Fort Belvoir campus in July to begin the three weeks of resident instruction, where she will not only learn to lead people, but also how to develop efficient organizational plans, manage resources, implement change and increase effective communication skills.

Because Sample is a permanent federal employee, and the CES is centrally funded, the Army will pay all the expenses for each course she takes.

In 2012, O'Brian will return to Fort Belvoir to partake in the Continuing Education for
Senior Leaders program, in which he and Army Civilians, GS-14 and 15 or equivalent, and Soldiers in the ranks of lieutenant colonel, sergeant major, chief warrant officer 4 and above, will get together for a week to get updates regarding Army programs, and discuss issues and challenges facing Army leaders.

"There's always room for improvement," he said. "The day we stop learning is the day it is time to move on to something else."

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Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16