WATERVLIET ARSENAL, N.Y. -- For many in the workforce, trying to figure out some of the Army’s personnel systems, such as the Federal Employees Retirement System or FERS and Civil Service Retirement System or CSRS, is an exercise in mental gymnastics. But what may surprise some is that there are other personnel programs the Arsenal uses to help shape the Arsenal workforce and they may be no less confusing.

Tina Pond, the Arsenal’s Civilian Personnel Advisory Center Director, said the Arsenal has recently tapped into four types of government-sponsored intern programs that have helped to prepare the Arsenal for a significant number of potential retirements in the next 3 to 5 years.

But why use interns in the first place?

Pond said the Intern Program is a win-win situation in that the Arsenal attains access to a potential pool of qualified and performance-tested employees, while the interns gain great job experience and sometimes an entry into the Department of the Army workforce.

There is more. Depending on the type of intern program that an applicant falls under, interns may be able to have a benefits package that rivals full-time DA employees, while other interns may be hired at little or no cost to the Arsenal.

Probably the most often used intern program the Arsenal has used in recent years was called the Federal Career Intern Program or FCIP.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, individuals who were hired into the FCIP program occupied positions that were classified as professional, administrative, or technical. Appointments were for up to two years at grades GS-5 through GS-9. The Arsenal recently hired 17 employees from this program before President Barack Obama revoked the program last March.

A second intern program is called the Army Civilian Training, Education & Development System or ACTEDS. Interns accepted into this program enter at the GS-5 and GS-7 levels as permanent full-time employees. Across the Army, there are more than 100 different occupations that applicants may apply for.

Pond said the best thing about ACTEDS is that this intern program doesn’t cost the Arsenal one dollar. The Department of the Army picks up the tab for the intern for up to 24 months. Upon completing the intern program, the former interns may be placed on the Arsenal payroll as a GS-9 or GS-11.

Matt Church, who works in the Arsenal’s Safety Office, is a great example of this program. In 2008, Church was nearly complete with his graduation requirements for SUNY Cortland but had to complete one more requirement before he could receive his diploma " an internship.

He found a sympathetic ear at the Arsenal and was allowed to conduct his college intern program with the Arsenal safety office. Well, that 90-day internship opened the door for Church to be accepted into the ACTEDS program. He recently completed the ACTEDS intern program and is now a full-time employee of the safety office.

In an effort to tap into the college market to reach a targeted group of future candidates for employment, the Army established a Student Career Experience Program or SCEP.

SCEP allows college students to work part-time with benefits and initial entry level in job fields that are related to their fields of study. Upon their second year, students may be promoted if they meet the qualification requirements of the position. Upon college graduation, they may be noncompetitively converted into a funded DA position.

The advantages of this program are significant for the student and the Arsenal. SCEP offers students great paid job experience in a related field of study and a job upon completion of the program, if they meet all requirements. The Arsenal gets to shape and groom a targeted group of talented students for eventual employment at the Arsenal.

Nathanael Jensen, who just completed his internship with Benét Laboratories as a Mechanical Engineering Technician, was enrolled in SCEP while attending Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He graduated last May and has been offered full-time employment with Benét Labs.

While at RPI, Jensen said he worked about 18 hours a week as an intern, and the Army picked up part of his tuition costs. He is now applying to get the Army to pay off his student loans.

Holland Hale, who currently is an intern with the Arsenal Contracting Office, is in an intern program called the Future Acquisition Student Training or FAST TRACK, which is similar to the SCEP program.

The FAST TRACK Program targets college students who are typically seeking business-related degrees.

Hale said she works about 20 hours per week, doesn’t receive benefits, but may have her student loans paid for by the Army upon graduation.

According to Pond, when Hale graduates from college she will likely be offered full-time employment at the Arsenal. Additionally, there is a payback to the Army of up to three years if interns have the Army pay for any part of their college tuition or student loans.

Now that the personnel management system is even more muddied than before you started reading this article, the one thing that should be clear is the Arsenal is taking active steps to shape its future workforce, and that some of these efforts come at little or no cost to the Arsenal.

Nevertheless, most people would agree that whatever costs are associated with the Arsenal's intern programs are simply an investment in the future of the Arsenal, especially given the fact that nearly 40 percent of the Arsenal workforce could retire in the next 3 to 5 years. A bubble that could burst if not closely managed by the Arsenal's leadership and personnel team.