Alexa Mize, a Pathways Program trainee at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama, operates the Okuma M560-Vertical Milling Center, which modifies a transmission valve body on Sept. 12, 2022.
1 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Alexa Mize, a Pathways Program trainee at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama, operates the Okuma M560-Vertical Milling Center, which modifies a transmission valve body on Sept. 12, 2022. (Photo Credit: Mark Cleghorn) VIEW ORIGINAL
Two student trainee laborers in the Pathways Technical College program reassemble troop seats for a Stryker vehicle at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama, on April 12, 2021.
2 / 2 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Two student trainee laborers in the Pathways Technical College program reassemble troop seats for a Stryker vehicle at Anniston Army Depot, Alabama, on April 12, 2021. (Photo Credit: Mark Cleghorn) VIEW ORIGINAL

As we shape the Army of 2030, military and civilian leaders continue to acknowledge our system of education has drastically changed, and the use of technology in education has subsequently gained widespread popularity. Modernization is not limited to facilities. To prepare our Army for multidomain operations, we must modernize equipment, technology, and people. The modernization of people, particularly in the areas of training, recruiting, and personnel management, is entering a new frontier.

Learning will never be the same. COVID-19 has contributed to the process of digitization in education in a dramatic way, and many of the advantages of online, flipped classrooms, and blended learning are being applied and increasingly appreciated throughout the entire education system. The modernization of education accelerated by the pandemic has made students, education professionals, and community stakeholders use, learn, and understand modern education technologies and tools in effective ways. Anniston Army Depot (ANAD), Alabama, has not been immune to these challenges. However, it has a unique permeation of the federal Pathways Program, outlined in the Code of Federal Regulations, 5 CFR Part 362, that has enabled the depot to effectively partner with our local and state government to maintain a pipeline of talented workers.

It is a known fact that maintaining a highly skilled workforce can be a challenge for any industry. A workforce analysis conducted by ANAD 24 years ago revealed that based on projected retirements, neither our local recruitment area nor the local technical colleges would produce enough qualified applicants in the depot’s skilled trades areas. The unforeseen agitation yielded an invaluable gem, the ANAD Career Academy Co-Op Program (Technical College Trades). Established in 1999, this program serves as an example of work-based learning programs for government, business, and academia.


The depot’s recruitment efforts in the initial co-op program were focused on mechanics, machining, and welding areas, expanding in 2006 to hydraulic/pneudraulic and in 2007 to electronics. The demand for co-op students helped increase enrollment in our two local technical colleges. However, these efforts were not producing enough qualified applicants to address our projected hiring needs.

In response, the co-op developed a three-phased program. Students are recruited either through the high school program (Phase 1) or directly through the technical college program (Phase 2). Once students have successfully completed their technical college course of study, they are eligible for noncompetitive conversion to a permanent position based on space availability. The permanent positions are targeted to the journey level of their trade (Phase 3) noncompetitively.

Once the selection phase is complete, students are required to complete two weeks of onboarding. This involves a myriad of training and instructions such as personal protective equipment issue and training, Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention, equal employment opportunity, suicide prevention training, environmental and hazardous waste safety, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and cardiac arrest defibrillator training, lean processes and concepts, voluntary protection program, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and Army regulatory guidelines, which include fall protection, machine guarding, confined space, welding operations, etc. Students leave the two-week orientation well-versed in Army Values, safety protocols, and how to navigate in an industrial environment.

The ANAD Pathways Program operates morning and afternoon sessions. Depot skilled journey level employees are used as trainers to provide on-the-job training. Students are recruited from 47 high schools in 11 counties. The program recruits high school students from public, private, and home-schooled students within a 55-mile radius. The primary purpose of the 55-mile radius is for student safety. Upon graduation from high school, students transfer to Phase 2 of the program, where students attend Gadsden State Community College. Tuition and books in this phase are funded by the depot. During this phase, students also receive on-the-job training in the shop area they will be assigned upon graduation.

Pathways interns in the technical college program are converted to a career-conditional appointment in a wage grade position with a target grade. After successful completion of a one-year trainee period at each grade level from entry to midpoint to target-performance level, they are eligible for promotion to the next grade, based on the series and specified target grade. Students in wage grade positions are eligible for promotion to Student Trainee (Laborer), WG-3501-04, after completion of three semesters of vocational study leading to a certificate or diploma and one period of Student Trainee (Laborer) work experience (320 hours). The promotion decision is made by the supervisor based on completed academic requirements and successful demonstration of skills outlined in the training plan.

Over the years, students have competed in SkillsUSA, which is a partnership of students, teachers, and industry working together to ensure America has a skilled workforce. We help each student excel. As a nonprofit National Education Association, SkillsUSA serves middle school, high school, and college/post-secondary students preparing for careers in trade, technical, and skilled service occupations. Students from the Anniston Army Depot Career Academy at the high school and technical college levels competed at the local, state, and national levels, winning numerous medals. This exemplifies the quality of instruction and training students receive in the program.

Pathways in the COVID Environment

The pandemic created unique and unprecedented challenges. During the recruitment process, many schools conducted classes through remote learning, making it difficult for counselors and career coaches to assist students navigating through USA Jobs to submit the required material in students’ resumes. To help with these challenges, we consistently maintained contact with principals, teachers, counselors, and parents throughout the hiring process. We extended the application submission for several additional weeks to ensure students had opportunities to apply for consideration to the program. We also permitted students to interview remotely, where in the previous years, all interviews were conducted in person only.

In preparation for the incoming class, we implemented safety protocols to mitigate student and instructor exposure. Since we cannot conduct training of this nature online, the depot took measures to ensure a safe learning environment. Students were temperature checked daily, and classrooms were thoroughly sanitized twice daily. The faculty went to great lengths to ensure parents all recommended protocols were followed to minimize student exposure.

Pathways and the Modernization of the Organic Industrial Base

At its peak, the high school co-op program operated a morning and afternoon session and had a capacity of 60 to 100 students annually, depending on a two-year projected workload requirement. In the immediate future, ANAD will introduce the High Velocity Training Center to our workforce, which will allow the depot to upskill its current team members and train the pipeline for our incoming workforce. This will dramatically decrease the training time to get our artisans up to speed and help modernize the way we do business. The High Velocity Training Center will utilize some of the newest technology, such as virtual welders and training methods, to improve workforce capability. We anticipate cost savings by cutting down on materials and helping our workforce utilize their full potential with a better understanding of their day-to-day missions.

Partnering with Alabama

To enhance the Pathways Program outreach and ensure the program’s involvement with changing patterns and shifts in the workforce climate, ANAD partnered with the Alabama Workforce Council in the fall of 2015. This launched Alabama Works, a program that stands for opportunity, innovation, accountability, and inclusion with the vision of a better future for Alabama in which community, business, and industry are supported in a collaborative process to build prosperity through the opportunity of meaningful work and a growing economy. The goal is to recruit, train, and empower a highly skilled workforce driven by business and industry needs and to be the competitive advantage for Alabama’s economic growth, whether for employers, job seekers, or students. The partnership yielded the Pathways Program’s participation in Worlds of Work Career Expo, a three-day career expo at the Oxford Civic Center in Oxford, Alabama, giving more than 8,000 middle school and high school students from seven area counties a hands-on look at more than 100 different career options available where they live. The success of work-based learning is a team effort, requiring collaboration among many stakeholders including employers, education institutions, and diverse state agencies. Integrating work and education increases the value and authenticity of training programs, providing employers with the skilled workers they need to keep economies moving forward.

Impact on Readiness

The ANAD Pathways Program has the visibility and complete support of partners in federal, state, and local government. The program is used as a model for industry and education working together to solve training and workforce revitalization issues. Regional businesses and military installations have visited to benchmark the program and capture best practices. The program was the first educational partnership in Alabama between the federal government, the State Department of Education, and a local school system. State education officials continue to recognize the ANAD Pathways Program for its innovative approach to work-based learning and workforce revitalization.

The Pathways Program allows depot management to evaluate all participants before conversion to a permanent position. ANAD has the option of not hiring any potential employee that has shown unsuitability or may no longer be required based on changes to depot workload changes due to operational requirements. Participants are introduced to depot safety culture early in their career, familiarizing themselves with safety data sheets, hearing and eye protections, and safety lockouts.

As a result of the Pathways Program, graduates are better integrated into ANAD operations when they are converted to permanent positions, requiring less supervision and faster integration into the depot workforce. Many graduates have gone on to become supervisors or leaders among the wage grade workforce, while others have furthered their education by obtaining bachelor’s and master’s degrees or transitioning from skilled trades into various professional arenas within the Department of the Army or the corporate environment. The ANAD Pathways Program is a critical enabler for workforce development. It will continue to provide innovative means for training the future mechanics and artisans of the Army’s organic industrial base.


Col. Eric A. McCoy currently serves as the commander of Anniston Army Depot. He has a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University and master’s degrees from Central Michigan University, Georgetown University, and the U.S. Army War College. He is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College, the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and Combined Arms and Services Staff School.

Thyris D. Banks currently serves as the Chief of the Business and Support Operations Division, Directorate of Strategic Planning at Anniston Army Depot. A native of Alexander City, Alabama, Banks is a 1988 graduate of Auburn University and attended Mississippi College. Receiving his commission in 1987 through the Army ROTC Program at Auburn, he served as a military intelligence and Acquisition Corps officer.


This article was published in the Winter 23 issue of Army Sustainment.


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