ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Illinois – Army Contracting Command-Rock Island’s Intern Homeroom (IHR), charged with training the center’s newest acquisition professionals, has seen its mission grow substantially in the three years since its establishment.
The benefits the IHR has provided, plus the center’s need to address attrition, has led to an increase of roles and responsibilities for ACC-RI personnel – both trainers and interns.
The IHR was established in FY18 as a one-branch entity with a focus on training the newest contract specialists on how to effectively execute various states of a contract. Over the past three years, it has grown from one to two branches, and the center recently added a third branch to facilitate additional hiring towards the center’s strategic intern hiring plan.
Now in the sixth iteration the IHR’s three branches are led by branch chiefs Lexie Bribriesco, Rachel Phelps and Jill Sommer. Each branch has six trainers and there are 52 interns assigned to the IHR itself, and 101 interns center-wide.
Bribriesco said the intern program lasts 2-3 years, and during the first 9 months, the interns are in the homeroom receiving targeted classroom training as well as some on-the-job training through workload execution.
“They are getting their feet wet as to what contracting is and then after that, they go on two 10-month rotations to a buying directorate or pricing, where they can increase their technical skills, contracting knowledge and understanding of ACC-RI’s vast mission set,” said Bribriesco.
In the first iteration of the IHR, the on-the-job training consisted mainly of cradle-to-grave contracting, which Bribriesco said is a new buy that the intern can put out for bid, have contractors propose, make an award and many times, the service or supply is delivered by the time the intern rotates out of the homeroom. Two years ago, the workload concept was expanded to include a mix of program-level workload to provide interns earlier exposure to the predominant type of workload they will experience across the center.
The homeroom recently underwent a structure change with the third branch, allowing each IHR branch to primarily focus on workload from one of ACC-RI’s three main buying areas falling under the Field Support Directorate (FSD), Munitions and Industrial Base Directorate and Information Technology Directorate. Each branch chief, training team and intern is now soft-aligned with one of those three buying directorates.
“One of the huge benefits that we see with this new structure is we’re aligning each branch to the buying directorates, whereas before we were really doing a little bit of everything so we couldn’t focus on one directorate at the leadership and branch level,” said Phelps. “We are excited about the opportunity to get more integrated with the buying directorates and trying to create a more collaborative environment with IHR across the center.”
The buying directorates see clear benefit as well.
“This new alignment with buying directorates better enables a steady workflow with the Intern Homeroom, while also allowing the directorate and Intern Homeroom to flex when one or the other needs help or has capacity,” said Kristin Comer, deputy director, FSD. “It also gives the interns great first-hand experience working with co-workers, customers and industry members that they may work with later on in their careers, so building that rapport from the beginning is another important aspect of the new IHR.”
Another upside to aligning the IHR with the directorates is the impact on journeymen employees who are serving as trainers in the homeroom.
“We have a lot of very talented, seasoned folks with robust contracting experience as our trainers,” said Phelps. “Some of them weren’t feeling challenged prior to us bringing in program-level workload and were feeling disconnected from the center’s mission so it is a win-win from both sides of making sure we continue to provide that professional development and the challenging mission work for our trainers in combination with better preparing our interns for whatever mission work they are going to face in future directorate rotations.”
Phelps said exposing the interns to the program-level and cradle-to-grave type contracting also prepares interns to work within the two major contract writing systems ACC-RI uses.
“A lot of times, the cradle to grave work is in PD2 and the program workload is mainly in PADDS, so this helps get them prepared,” said Phelps. “They’re not going to be experts on both systems, but our goal is to provide them exposure to both systems in IHR so they can start familiarizing themselves with the systems we use before they go into rotations and work extensively in one or the other.”
Kaci Christensen, an ACC-RI intern contract specialist who started in summer 2019, said the IHR prepared her in many ways, with one of the most impactful lessons being that interns need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable
“In the IHR, I was pushed out of my comfort zone right from the start, by doing things like running conference calls, visiting contractors and jumping right into systems,” said Christensen. “The push I received has been greatly reflected in my contracting experience so far and thanks to the IHR, I’m excited to see where my contracting role takes me.”
Christensen said she cannot thank the IHR contracting officers, trainers and branch chiefs enough, as their instruction had helped her feel more confident in her skills as she transitions between directorate rotations and takes on more complicated tasks.
Overall, the IHR trainers know that the on-the-job training helps interns learn the technical side of contracting, but more importantly is the focus on connecting the reason behind what they are doing.
“We are really helping them understand what they’re buying and why they’re buying it; what the impact is to the Army and the customer,” said Phelps.