ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. — Getting good employees is still a struggle for many organizations, even though most pandemic-related job openings have been filled. The reasons vary, of course, but among them are lack of skills, stiff competition from other companies, and an attitude change among workers who want better pay and benefits, a more balanced work-life situation, and an organization that they feel truly values them as a person.
The U.S. Army Sustainment Command also feels that struggle and is using a unique proactive approach to recruit and retain high-quality employees. The program is called Acquiring Skilled, Sustainable & Empowered Talent, or ASSET.
ASC’s mission is to ensure that all Army personnel, Soldiers, Civilians, and contractors, have the proper equipment at the right time, the right place, and in good condition, allowing them to integrate and synchronize key elements of the sustainment enterprise to deliver capabilities in support of Army forces during Joint All-Domain Operations. That takes people, and that’s why it is imperative that ASC has well-trained and resourceful talent in the right jobs all the time.
ASSET seeks to make sure that, in the case of attrition, another skilled employee is confident, resourced, and ready to take on the tasks needed to avoid mission failure.
ASSET identifies command directorates which face probable upcoming attrition – retiring workers, employees who are promoted and move up in the ranks, those seeking other jobs, or personnel contemplating moving out of the area – and actively looks for qualified people to fill those slots with interns before the slot is open.
Bailey Rowold manages the ASSET program as a specialist in G1 (Human Resources).
“This program is important to ASC because it gives ASSET interns an extended rotational experience through their respective directorate to learn all aspects that their divisions cover,” she said. “Once the process is complete, the intern is a cross-trained employee, which allows them to reflect on how the missions support one another and which aspects of the mission best align with their interests and skillsets.
“We want to get the word out to not only our local community but also across our ASC footprint,” Rowold said. “Once the intern is onboarded, we want to ensure they have a smooth transition coming into ASC. We want employees in this program to understand ASC and what we do and why we are the best organization to work for. We provide them with a robust in-person onboarding which includes acculturation activities to network with other new ASSET employees and team members. While going through ASSET, I am always here for employees’ questions or concerns about the program. We do not cut communication after the warm handoff to their directorate. We are there to help answer any questions or concerns they could have all along the way.”
Dr. Kathleen Linderman, the G6 (Information Technology) chief information officer, said she has seen firsthand the value of the ASSET program.
Linderman said she is anticipating several retirements among key personnel over the next couple of years, and those individuals will take many years of experience and organizational knowledge with them.
“While this issue exists across the command due to an aging workforce,” she said, “G6 currently has the largest percentage of key personnel [within ASC] who are already retirement eligible or will be eligible soon. Therefore, G6 was selected to participate in the ASSET pilot. Our hope is that the ASSET program will allow us to start building our bench in anticipation of a potential future surge in retirements.”
New employee Tim Hood, information technology specialist, is currently in the ASSET program, working in G6.
Hood said the program has been very valuable for him, and that ASC “was the first place I have ever been where I was welcomed with open arms and shown that the organization and the people really care about their employees. I am unsure where I will be permanently assigned [within G6] at the end of the program,” he said, “but look forward to learning as much as I can about all the sections so I can best support everyone.”
Heather Tahja, a G1 program specialist and one of the ASSET program developers, analyzes various command demographics, which is an integral part of the ASSET program.
“As I find a need, based on discussions with leadership, I will let Bailey (Rowold) know so that she can work with that mission area to deploy ASSET. This allows us to bring interns onboard to job shadow and network with subject matter experts on their team prior to attrition,” Tahja explained.
Part of that analysis is focusing on retirement eligibility statistics. These are people who have been with ASC for quite a few years, and who possess unique and valuable skillsets, and knowledge within their mission area that a new hire simply wouldn’t have. This gives ASSET interns a chance to network, mentor, and job shadow with the subject matter experts before attrition takes place.
Although retirement is one of the factors to be analyzed, it’s only one of many. Sometimes the need for ASSET is determined through conversations with directorate leaders who have insider knowledge of employee attrition within their respective mission areas. This helps identify a forecasted gap that can be filled proactively through the program. The positions are mostly entry-level and often, but not always, start at a GS-7 level and elevate to GS-11 in several years. The ultimate grade level depends on the requirements of the specific position.
Tahja says they are developing an “ASSET 2.0” to deploy by 2025 that would target mid-careerist levels like GS-12s.
Once an ASSET recruitment is deployed and selectees are identified, Rowold works with directorate leaders on a rotation strategy that affords interns a unique opportunity to network, job shadow and cross-train in all facets of the assigned mission area for which they are hired.
This also allows division supervisors and team leads within those directorates to analyze the interns’ skills sets and interests to determine where they could best contribute to the mission.
Jim Spencer, G1 deputy director, has watched ASSET develop and sees it as a valuable tool now, with a lot of potential for the future.
“ASSET has allowed us to evolve entry-level recruiting efforts,” he said. “As we focus on proactively bringing talent into our organization, we are building the bench of future Army leaders while simultaneously allowing them to network, job shadow and develop with subject matter experts prior to attrition,” he explained.
“We are also expanding the ASSET intern’s operational and strategic knowledge base through a collaborative rotation plan that affords them the opportunity to learn all facets within their assigned directorate,” Spencer said. “The ASSET program has been strategically designed to equip interns with valuable resources, skills, and opportunities to launch a successful career at ASC.”
Rowold said she expects the ASC model to be emulated by other organizations.
“I do think that ASSET is the tip of the spear and will be echoed. Fewer organizations have a formal rotational experience that allow both supervisors and employees to collaborate and determine where their skillsets would be best utilized within their directorate,” she said. “Sometimes taking the plunge into a new position can be difficult, especially when you have never been with that organization before. ASSET is building the bench for future ready and resilient Army leaders and bringing them onboard proactively.”