SCHINNEN, The Netherlands - The Army's reliance on civilian employees today is more pronounced than ever. Throughout the Benelux region, garrisons support service members, families and civilians with the opportunities and challenges of international living and working.

Host nation employees often comprise one-half to two-thirds of an Army garrison's workforce in Europe, so one might expect more students from European nations than U.S. attend Army Civilian Education System classes from IMCOM-Europe, but this isn't the case.

"Obviously the U.S. CES is set up to accommodate Americans just like the Dutch Ministry of Defense has training opportunities for Dutch employees through the Dutch Civilian Personnel Office," said Jan Maessen, USAG Schinnen's chief of Resource Management, a DMOD employee and a February 2008 graduate of the U.S. Army CES Intermediate Course.

"But when it comes to teaching what I needed to know to support USAG Schinnen's mission, the CES course I attended was the best training I ever had," Maessen said.

As the CES website explains, CES is a leader development program that provides educational opportunities for Army civilians throughout their careers. It also reveals that most permanent Army civilians and host nation employees are centrally funded, so attendance at a resident course won't affect a unit's budget.

Extending centrally funded options for host nation personnel at USAG Schinnen is possible, in part, from a desire to include host nation employees in the CES.

In December 2007, Frans Meisen, USAG Schinnen's plans specialist in the Plans, Analysis and Integration Office, was the first host nation employee to graduate from the CES Intermediate Course held in Fort Belvoir, Va., paving the way for more to follow.

While attending their CES courses, Meisen and Maessen engaged the Army Management Staff College leadership then connected them with the USAG Benelux and USAG Schinnen leadership. Now, host nation personnel are encouraged to take advantage of centrally funded CES courses.

Maessen enjoyed his CES experience and explained how his CES instructor surprised his class during the second week of his three-week course held in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

The instructor said that class was cancelled but, that Maessen's workgroup was required to find a civilian business off the base, interview the management and assess their business plan. Then, Maessen's group had to brief the entire class about the business' strengths, weaknesses and its ability to succeed.

"We didn't just sit in class. We were active. My group investigated an American brewery and later a Mississippi River steamboat museum when the instructor tasked us to study another off-base business again the following Monday. It made us discover how a civilian business' mission, vision and processes relate to day-to-day tasks on a garrison," Maessen said.

Maessen admits that the American-centricity of CES and the Internet connections while completing the distant learning modules were a challenge, but these challenges were resolved.

"At the end of the day, it was a great hands-on experience that I'd recommend to anyone who works for a U.S. Army garrison," Maessen said.

Army civilian Patricia Luijpen, USAG Schinnen's administrative officer and a March 2010 graduate of the CES Basic Course agreed with Maessen.

"My workgroup experienced the 'form-storm-norm-perform' process of getting together and figuring out how to complete our class project. The course pushed us all to think critically, to work interactively and understand team dynamics," said Luijpen.

The "form-storm-norm-perform" process that Luijpen referred to is a four-step process of team dynamics where a group first is "formed," sometimes with a mix of matched and mismatched skills to assignments. Then a group "storms" into formal and informal roles, evolves to a "normal" work process and then "performs" at a consistently improving level of quality.

"CES has several courses designed for certain levels, and I highly recommend enrolling into a CES class. Go with an open mind, expect to be involved, and you won't regret it. It's hands-on, interactive, and you will learn. The Basic Course wasn't what I expected, but it proved to be everything it should be and more," said Luijpen.

The ideal place to get started with professional development training or CES in an Army garrison is at the Directorate of Human Resources Workforce Development Office. If you are a host nation employee, it is also important to check with your host nation Civilian Personnel Office.

USAG Schinnen's Dutch CPO completed a groundbreaking professional development event in March called Mobility Week. First launched in South Limburg in 2009, it is a combined effort between local government municipalities and a network of Dutch government employees. For one week each year, employees from one organization or municipality exchange jobs or shadow an employee in a different organization.

"Mobility Week is a program that unlocks the workforce and encourages them to broaden their skills and occupational outlook," said Maurice Knoben, the Dutch CPO Schinnen Branch Manager.

"By having one of our Dutch employees who works on Schinnen exchange job experiences with a Dutch employee from a local municipality; a two-way ambassador opportunity is created. Both employees are introduced to new occupational experiences while providing a way to educate people about USAG Schinnen and its mission," Knoben said.

The Mobility Week program was so successful in 2009 that more than 1,030 Dutch employees throughout South Limburg participated in the program in 2010 - almost double that in 2009.

Two professional networking agencies, known as IGOM and LIFT, coordinated and registered employers and employees to match skills and interests to vocations in South Limburg and USAG Schinnen was a registered partner in this effort.

"It is an excellent way to gain a new perspective and explore the job market. Our participation helps put USAG Schinnen on the map, and when we hear about the Dutch government planning to increase the retirement age to 67 or more, it's clear that we need to develop a workforce that embraces flexibility and adaptability. Mobility Week helps do exactly that," said Knoben.

"There are many training opportunities, but they're not for everyone. For many host nation positions, the duties and responsibilities do not align with the U.S. Army CES. That's why the DMOD is a good resource to seek training for the Dutch employees on USAG Schinnen. It's up to the individual," said Maessen.

For U.S. Army civilians, the progressive involvement in CES is required if their position is a permanent appointment.

"Anyone who has any intention of progressing in the U.S. government service or as a member of an Army needs to enroll and participate in the CES. If not, a person is handicapping themselves," said Don Smith, USAG Schinnen's deputy to the garrison commander.

"The education and development process for uniformed service members is pretty rigid and very much influences promotions and assignments. The Army has seen the need to establish a similar educational system for its civilians. I went to the CES Advanced course in January 2009, and it was definitely worth attending. CES exposes civilians to the strategic side of Army operations and makes civilians competitive for future advancement," said Smith.

CES provides the Army Civilian Corps self-development and training to develop leadership attributes through distance learning on the Internet and resident training. CES includes the Action Officer Development Course, Supervisory Development Course, Management Development Course, Foundation Course, Basic Course, Intermediate Course, Advanced Course and Senior Service College.

"All the CES courses are building blocks and will make you a better candidate when competing for jobs. Log on, register and go," said Smith.