Army Contracting Command-Rock Island's Home Base trainers gather on site at Rock Island Arsenal, Jan. 29, 2024.
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Army Contracting Command-Rock Island's Home Base trainers discuss some of the takeaways they have from recent trainer summits, during a meeting at Rock Island Arsenal, Jan. 29, 2024.
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ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. - The Army Contracting Command – Rock Island Contracting Development Program (CDP), which is also known as the Home Base, is a program strategically designed to assist with the development of the center’s newest professional acquisition workforce, known as fellows, while supporting the center’s mission and vision statements. A fellow begins their acquisition journey in Home Base and has two subsequent rotations within the center, which are dedicated to enhancing their acquisition learning. In support of the growth of each fellow, there is parallel and future growth of the program itself to ensure its relevancy and sustainability. With the fluent redesign in how fellows become contracting certified, coupled with the change to the probationary period and ensuring each fellow is empowered in their progression of acquisition competencies and business acumen, a refined and strategic approach was necessitated to holistically accentuate the program, which folds into supporting the center.

Beginning in the second quarter of fiscal year 2023, a quarterly Home Base Trainer Summit was developed to take advantage of the trainers’ insightfulness and to remain pertinent as a program. The Trainer Summit is an all-day onsite event designed exclusively for direct engagement between the Home Base branch chiefs and the Home Base trainer community.

It is intended to act as an unbiased communication platform for the trainer population to share ideas openly and respectfully regarding the mechanics of the program. The Home Base branch chiefs facilitate the event, but each trainer is empowered to share their perspective and creativity. This powerful event naturally fosters comradery, which highlights the flow of conversation, brainstorming, and innovation of thought. Its purpose covers curriculum and timeline improvements and strategic planning for the future and considers solicited and unsolicited feedback from various sources.

Jill Sommer, branch chief in the Acquisition, Quality and Training Division, stated the contracting acquisition career field certification process was modernized to implement the back-to-basics DoD Contracting Professional Certification Program framework in Feb 2022.

“This process is streamlined to capture a single level professional certification comprised of four core contracting courses and concludes with a comprehensive exam,” said Sommer. “Upon meeting the requirements, the employee then applies for certification.”

Sommer stated beginning in January of 2023, another change for new employees was the shift to a one-year probationary period. Based upon the change to the probationary period and center-wide program feedback, a collaborative decision was made to evaluate how the current program could be restructured to better align with the probationary period and to ensure the voices of the Center were heard.

With a blend of immersive curriculum, on-the-job training, leadership, and contracting topical events comes growth in both hard and soft skills of each fellow. A vital aspect and the backbone of this multi-faceted growth are the program’s 18 trainers who train, coach, guide, and mentor every fellow within Home Base. In this capacity, the trainer community plays an important role in preparing the fellows as they progress through the program in support of the center’s buying directorates and pricing division missions.

“I really want to focus on the trainers,” said Sommer. “It is both challenging and rewarding because not only are they responsible for providing fellow acquisition training to build foundational acquisition competencies and business acumen skills, on a continuum they are enhancing the overall curriculum and, in the process, naturally developing their strategic thinking and leadership skills.”

Katie Crawford, Home Base trainer, stated that she likes having the trainer summit because she personally enjoys having the face-to-face interaction with her peers.

“Ever since the workforce transitioned to a primarily telework environment as a result of the COVID pandemic, it has significantly decreased how much in-person time we have,” said Crawford. “One of my favorite parts is getting together with everyone and having that dedicated time to collaborate and to see people and catch up.”

Anna Thissen, another Home Base trainer, also said that the summit is an opportunity to share best practices and see different tools and strategies used by other teams in Home Base.

“It is also an opportunity to get back to the basics and look at the overall purpose of Home Base to ensure what we are doing on a daily basis is meeting the needs of the fellows, the buying directorates, the center and the acquisition career field overall,” said Thissen.

Sommer explained from a program supervisory level, these engagements show the trainers how valued they are to the Home Base strategy and the center.

“We want to hear their voice because they are the front line,” said Sommer. “Every fellow has a different learning style, so every trainer has to pivot their teaching style to accommodate that learning style.”

Thissen stated that one topic discussed in the summit is how to improve communication between the buying directorates and the Home Base.

“We want to ensure the buying directorates are aware of what goes on in Home Base,” said Thissen. “If you haven’t been in Home Base, as a trainer or a fellow, you may not know how the fellows are being trained and prepared. Improving this communication should strengthen the connection between the Home Base’s purpose and how it supports the center’s mission. We want to set the fellows up for success during their buying directorate rotations and beyond.”

Crawford also explained that they are trying to figure out what skills and competencies the fellows picked up while in the Home Base and in training, and how those measure up to the necessary knowledge needed to support the buying directorates and the center.

Sommer also believes trainer morale is important and should be pulsed regularly. The summit allows a dedicated time and space for this, and Home Base leadership listen with intent to interpret any roadblocks or concerns to gain perspective.

Sommer said a main focus of these summits has been working on overall program improvements and timelines which include consideration of solicited and unsolicited feedback from employees across the center.

“Specifically, a strategic move was to extend the Home Base period from nine months to 12 months to align with the probationary period shift,” said Sommer. “With the extra three months we are in the process of exploring and defining experiential ways to enhance the fellows’ learning to further aide in their confidence and acumen.”

Sommer stated the Home Base branch chiefs are collaborative in nature with not only sharing best practices on program implementation and / or onboarding procedures when pulsed by other Organizations such as United States Army Training and Doctrine Command or TRADOC, ACC-Redstone, ACC-Detroit, and HQs Army Sustainment Command, but similarly interested in learning their battle rhythm. The defining practice of continual improvement touches the entire Army family by supporting one another in the implementation of growing the footprint of leaders which includes the role of the trainer community.

Thissen said that the summit provides an excellent way for the trainers to provide their feedback and ideas to be heard.

“The branch chiefs sincerely care and want to hear from us, and this summit provides that opportunity,” said Thissen. “We see the feedback and ideas we provide incorporated into the program. We see results from these summits; it’s not just a ‘check the box’ event.”

This quarterly battle rhythm has proven to be an effective addition to the program celebrating the trainer community while supporting the Home Base mission to develop a premier acquisition professional workforce. By building the foundational acquisition competencies and the business acumen skills of our Contract Specialist enables execution of agile, innovative, and mission focused contracting solutions on a global scale.