Fort Benning Public Affairs
FORT BENNING, Ga. – Army civilians who want to sharpen work skills, gain new ones, and get practical aid in steering the best career path can get plenty of help through a program underway here to help them do just that.
The Workforce Development program set up shop in January 2020 at Fort Benning and is geared to helping rank-and-file employees, supervisors, and even those who are not supervisors but show leadership potential, said Shannon C. Gardner, workforce development program manager with U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning's Plans, Analysis and Integration Office (PAIO).
Also called WFD, the effort here is part of an Army-wide initiative run by the U.S. Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM).
The program began its first training sessions last June and is still in its early stages in some respects, said Gardner, with plans to steadily expand its course offerings and other services in the coming months and years.
"We're still developing this program," she said. "We are building it as we go and we are trying to get things off the ground."
Last May the program did an online survey of employees to learn what kinds of training the workforce needed.
Gardner and other officials here then drew up a list of classes and other training opportunities to offer employees, and are continuing to refine that list, she said.
"Learning is lifelong. You can always learn something new. Whether it's in working with your customers ... your family ...your team, you have an opportunity for professional and personal development ... If you're interested in it, it's there." – Shannon C. Gardner, workforce development program manager with U.S. Army Garrison Fort Benning's Plans, Analysis and Integration Office (PAIO)
Since last June the program has originated or had a hand in at least 25 training sessions of various kinds. Those taking that training numbered about 1,500 civilians, contractors, and Soldiers, Gardner said.
All training has been virtual thus far because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But plans are to hold in-person sessions once pandemic conditions permit, she said. Even then, some sessions will be held online when appropriate.
This month, Fort Benning will hold its first classes on the Thrift Savings Plan, or TSP. Scheduled for March 11 and 18, they'll be taught by the Financial Readiness Program, part of Army Community Service (ACS) here, Gardner said.
The WFD program's role was in coordinating with ACS to arrange the classes, she said.
TSP is a retirement savings and investment plan for federal employees and members of the armed forces, including the Ready Reserve. It offers the same kinds of savings and tax benefits that many private firms offer employees through 401(k) plans.
"When we did our training needs assessment last May," said Gardner, "one of the areas that was on the top-10 list that employees wanted information about, had to do with retirement planning and had to do with Thrift Savings Plan.
"So this is us recognizing that that's what the workforce said they were interested in knowing, that they felt that they needed that information to help make better decisions," she said.
"And then beyond that we will have future topics that will also include retirement planning and then savings and investments," she said.
As part of WFD's offerings, Gardner came up with a more efficient way to help employees receive three of the types of training that all Army civilian employees are required to take every year.
The three are SHARP, or Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, as well as sessions on suicide prevention and substance abuse. The latter two are part of what the Army now calls personal readiness training, Gardner said.
Because the three types of training are an important mandatory requirement, Gardner decided to merge the three into a single time-saving session for the convenience of the workforce. She calls it "TRIO Training." The first TRIO session was last August.
"The concept behind that is, you come for one training session, you don't have to travel three or four times, you come for one session and you get all three in one session," she said.
The TRIO sessions are offered the third Tuesday of every month, and employees can choose between a session held in the morning and one in the afternoon, said Gardner.
Fort Benning also continues to make each of the three sessions available separately, she said.
Another way the WFD program plans to help develop the workforce is to eventually offer what are called "developmental assignments." Those give employees a chance to work temporarily in jobs that may help them hone existing skills and forge new ones.
An example, said Gardner, would be someone who works in the personnel field, but has an interest in possibly shifting their career to finance and accounting.
"They want to know what it's like," she said. "We'll do some sort of rotational or some sort of assignment where that person can go spend two weeks with the finance department," Gardner said.
"So we should have some sort of local developmental assignment program where we can do that," she said. "We can help grow people who might be interested in another area. That may be their forte or their strength. But to give them that experience to broaden their career."
Also among the various methods the program plans to eventually use are sessions on what are called individual development plans, or IDPs, Gardner said.
These are written plans that set out specific goals for an employee's professional and personal development and a timetable for meeting them. They're written and updated through periodic consultations between employee and supervisor. That gives to both a way to pinpoint training and development requirements and to track progress.
Employees hoping to earn a master's degree for reasons not necessarily tied to their jobs is an example of a personal development goal, Gardner said.
Supervisors are also a focus of the program.
"Another area we want to focus in on developing are the supervisors," said Gardner. "We want to make sure that they have the right tools and things, that they understand the different aspects of what's in their tool bag."
Those include making sure they know about help offered to supervisors through EEO, or the Equal Employment Opportunity office, and the Employee Assistance Program, or EAP, among others, she said.
"Do they know about EEO?" said Gardner. " Do they know about the EAP program, for example? Do they know the resources that are available to them? Do they know about labor relations?"
One of the means Fort Benning uses to help supervisors gain that knowledge is a class run by Fort Benning's Civilian Personnel Advisory Center, or CPAC. Called "HR for Supervisors," it covers such matters as recruitment of employees, labor relations, managing job performance, and other topics.
The CPAC's course predates the WFD program, said Gardner, but in her role as program manager she's making a point of notifying her contacts in the workforce of when the CPAC's course is being held.
The WFD program also wants to identify and help those who are not in supervisory slots but who tend to exercise leadership within their workplace, Gardner said. They will be encouraged to attend any leadership training that's offered, including that given to supervisors.
"A lot of times they may not identify themselves as a leader but they already are a leader," she said. "They are always welcome to any of the supervisor training that's offered," she said, and will be likewise invited to a series of leadership classes that will eventually be given here.
Gardner sends out an email bulletin with information on each month's training courses and related activities.
Those wanting to receive the bulletin, or to get more information on workforce development opportunities, can contact Gardner at: firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone, beginning the week of March 8, at: 706-545-6204.
Gardner hopes employees will make the most of the chance at further professional and personal development.
"Learning is lifelong," said Gardner. "You can always learn something new. Whether it's in working with your customers, whether it's working with your family, whether it's working with your team, you have an opportunity for professional and personal development. There are great things that are going on. If you're interested in it, it's there."