ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. -- The U.S. Army Sustainment Command is evolving as an organization as it competes with other public sector organizations and the private sector to recruit and retain highly skilled employees, according to ASC human resource specialists.
ASC is tasked with ensuring that warfighters have everything they need to fight and win. As the operational arm of the U.S. Army Materiel Command, ASC is the logistical hub that makes sure everything from meals, to uniforms, to tanks and howitzers, are where they need to be when they need to be there.
This enormous and multifaceted responsibility means that ASC must draw upon a diverse set of skills, not only from its Soldiers, but from the command’s 4,600-plus civilian employees at its headquarters and situated around the globe.
ASC has men and women in all aspects of operations, over a wide range of ages. The youngest employees are in their early 20s, and, of this writing, the oldest employee is 89 years old, with the rest spread throughout the age spectrum. This wide range of ages brings with it some issues, but also opportunities.
As seasoned workers retire, die, or change jobs, either for a promotion or lateral position, new and junior workers are needed to replace them. However, these junior workers may not have an understanding of how ASC works, and how its mission has changed over the years.
Melissa Peterson, a Human Resources specialist with ASC, said the loss of institutional knowledge of its seasoned employees is a major concern at ASC.
“We have an aging workforce, with one in four civilian employees eligible for optional retirement. By 2024, one in two will be eligible to retire,” Peterson said.
These statistics make it imperative that ASC bring in qualified junior employees. But, those junior workers don’t have the institutional knowledge that seasoned, experienced ASC employees will have, and there is a strong need for seasoned workers to mentor junior ones, so they understand ASC’s mission and how it evolved through the years.
Conversely, a junior person can bring fresh knowledge and approaches through their education and internships from other organizations, and ASC leadership realizes that this should be recognized and appreciated.
According to Peterson, many people carry with them some generalizations about different age groups. Some junior workers look at seasoned employees as simply “riding out their time” before they retire. And “Baby Boomers” sometimes look at junior “Millennials” as feeling “entitled,” she said.
Dan Kern, ASC’s Civilian Personnel Division chief, says that there is at times what he calls “unconscious bias” and he says much of that bias isn’t based upon reality, but rather a self-contrived fallacy.
He cites Jennifer J. Deal, senior research scientist at Center for Creative Leadership, a nonprofit organization that focuses on leadership development worldwide. On the organization’s website, Deal states, “When you see generational conflict, assume it’s about power, not age. The underlying issue is generally who has power and control and who wants it.”
As different as Individuals are, they also shares many common bonds, especially in our modern era, where information spreads so rapidly, and both Peterson and Kern agree that while seasoned workers can mentor junior ones, the junior generation also has a lot to bring to the table.
“Reverse mentoring is a huge opportunity that we are lacking in,” Peterson said. “Employees of junior generations bring a depth and breadth of technical knowledge that our seasoned workforce can also learn from. Ultimately, it will enhance the entire workforce.”
“Certainly, there must be a plan to support the aging workforce, develop a junior workforce, and address the needs to meet gaps that may occur when someone with a lot of experience departs,” Kern added.
“Ideally, we leverage the significant amount of experience and wisdom in the seasoned force to mentor and develop the junior workers as part of a sustainable succession plan. Everyone should be working to grow and develop their replacement. If we all took that approach, there would never be a concern,” he said.
Kern said that ASC is trying to achieve an “age-neutral” workplace.
“If we look at diversity and inclusion from the lens of the gifts that each individual brings to the team without passing perceptions of that individual through the filters of generational expectations, we are truly meeting the intent of a strong diversity and inclusion program,” Kern said.
Ultimately, managing unique and diverse ideas will require knowledgeable and creative supervisory teams and upper-level management direction.
ASC has surveyed its civilian workforce on an annual basis since 2014, and some common themes have emerged since those surveys began, irrespective of age.
“People of all ages view work as a vehicle for personal fulfillment and satisfaction, not just for a paycheck. All generations want to feel valued on the job,” Peterson said of the survey results. “All employees want a supportive work environment where they are recognized and appreciated. Career development is a high priority, and job flexibility is important”.
Peterson says ASC has introduced a number of programs to develop new leaders and support employees.
“ASC has implemented the Strategic Human Capital Plan 2020-2025 workforce lifecycle, acknowledging generational difference and the need to transform processes to support a multigenerational workforce,” she said.
These include, but are not limited to, using technology to solicit ideas, organizational and hiring transparency, shortening the hiring process, mentorship and training opportunities, and building a team culture, Peterson explained.
Of great importance in addressing those issues is treating everyone as an individual, Kern said.
“I think it is important for organizations to recognize that we need to look at our workforce as individuals each with unique strengths and weaknesses that are not neatly packaged by generational stereotypes. There is a difference between generalizations to help understand the world and the need to understand the person standing in front of you,” he said.
“That person doesn’t care what preconceived notion you have been fed about them. That person wants to be seen as a unique individual who can contribute to the team,” Kern explained. “We see every employee as a valuable contributing member of the team and value everyone for their unique talents, perspectives, and experience.”
Throughout its history, ASC has evolved as requirements have changed, but regardless of the mission, it is the people who perform the daily tasks to support it. Such as a diverse workforce, with a wide range of age groups and skill sets, is crucial in order for ASC to remain vibrant and thrive in the future.