By John B. SnyderJanuary 23, 2018
WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- After more than 200 years in operation, the fact that the Arsenal must hire machinists and machine tool operators is not news. What is news, however, is how the Arsenal is now using a new hiring authority to immediately fill more than 40 critical skill positions.
The Arsenal came out of 2017 with a significant problem or what the Arsenal Deputy Commander Joseph Turcotte refers to as a good challenge to have, especially after many years of inconsistent and insufficient defense budgets.
"Due to a recent increase in the demand for Arsenal products to support Soldier readiness requirements, the Arsenal must double its manufacturing capacity within the next four years," Turcotte said. "This amazing turn of events, however, is forcing the Arsenal to better leverage innovative thinking in equipment usage, as well as in personnel development."
With unemployment hovering around four percent outside of the Arsenal's fence line, and the fact that every machinist apprentice coming out of a local college has a job upon graduation, trying to find qualified applicants has been extremely challenging.
"We have heavily advertised, as well as participated in several job fairs in a deliberate effort to fill critical vacancies on our production floors," said Jennifer Pusatere, a Human Resource Specialist at the Arsenal. "But those efforts have not been enough due to the shortage of skilled labor in the area."
Pusatere added that the current federal hiring process that requires prospective applicants to submit their résumés through an online service does not adequately support filling vacancies in an expedited manner. Additionally, the online process does not allow for an applicant to speak firsthand with a personnel official. With those challenges, many qualified people who might have applied to work at the Arsenal simply did not.
And so, the Arsenal leadership aggressively sought approval from higher Army headquarters to use a hiring process called the Direct-Hire Authority to expedite the hiring process for machinists and machine tool operators. This hiring authority allows the Arsenal to accept résumés directly from the applicant.
The first opportunity for the Arsenal to leverage the new hiring authority was on Jan. 15 at the Albany Times Union job fair in Colonie, N.Y.
"Going into the job fair, there were many here who were concerned that the Arsenal could not compete in a job fair where nearly 60 local businesses were hiring," said Gregory Stopera, the Arsenal's Deputy Director for Human Capital. "But the one thing that made us competitive is that we, for the first time in at least a decade, could accept résumés directly from the applicant."
Over the course of six hours at the job fair, hundreds of prospective applicants visited the Arsenal's team. Of those, more than 140 left their résumé. There were an additional 35 people who could not attend the job fair and so, they submitted their résumés directly to the Arsenal's personnel activity, a process that was unavailable prior to obtaining direct-hire authority.
To the Arsenal team who manned the job fair booth, they clearly understood just how successful the job fair would be.
"The Times Union job fair was by far the best one I have attended since working for the Arsenal," said James Ehman, human resource specialist. "While all of our job fairs bring in a steady flow of job seekers, those job fairs were nothing compared to this one. Being able to accept resumes on the spot made it an extremely productive day."
But it would be a Times Union newspaper article about Monday's job fair that clearly signaled the Arsenal's success.
The Times Union paper claimed in a Jan. 16 article that "the hottest destination on this chilly winter day was the Watervliet Arsenal, where the line for the recruiting booth stretched around the ballroom of the Albany Marriott Hotel."
According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), Direct-Hire Authority can be authorized to fill vacancies when a critical hiring need or severe shortage of candidates exists. In the Arsenal case, its requirements satisfy both of those criteria.
The Arsenal has already begun to set up interview schedules and believes to have the first hiring actions in the next 30 days.
The Watervliet Arsenal is an Army-owned-and-operated manufacturing facility located in Watervliet, New York. The Arsenal is the oldest, continuously active arsenal in the United States, having begun operations during the War of 1812. The Arsenal is a subordinate command to the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command and the U.S. Army Materiel Command.