Cavalry not coming for acquisition workforce
- By Camille Tuutti
- Jan 17, 2013
Although agencies have tools to make procurement more effective, 2013 is likely to remain a difficult year for acquisition workforce challenges. Insufficient training and a dearth of opportunities for professional development will continue to bedevil employees in acquisition roles.
For example, “we talk a lot about cloud, and there isn’t a lot of cloud experience” among the acquisition workforce, said Lisa Mascolo, CEO of Optimos. “The same goes for open source and mobility. We talk a lot about them, but the acquisition workforce hasn’t had the training they need in order to properly procure” the products and services.
When training does happen, it tends to be basic. Opportunities to learn more advanced skills or deepen existing knowledge are rare. Older employees who retire and take their institutional knowledge out of the organization add to the growing skills gap.
Acquisition professionals “don’t grow on trees, obviously,” said Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel at the Professional Services Council. “The only way to train the workforce is essentially on the job. There are education opportunities, but you have to gain this experience through practice, through real-world applications.”
And don’t expect the most experienced workers, who are retiring in waves, to help, Chvotkin warned. They “aren’t going to hang around even as mentors or knowledge workers.”
The lack of skilled and well trained employees and the focus on increased capabilities have combined to create some deeply ingrained problems, said Jaime Gracia, president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting. And pay freezes, furloughs and other measures that make the government a less attractive employer only add to the woes, Chvotkin said.
“When you look at what the government has to offer other than being at the leading edge of some policy or operational issues, government time after time after time shows up to be not an employer of choice for those people with highly marketable skills,” he said.
Mascolo offered a contrarian view, saying the retirement wave might be less of a concern than some believe. Much of the expertise those retirees take away is obsolete anyway, she said.
“The real catastrophe will be if we don’t get the newer generation of procurement officials enough training around new technologies and knowing how to use these emerging methodologies to deal with the other challenges,” she said.
Although the problems are widely recognized and not subject to much dispute, a solution in 2013 seems unlikely.
“We’re certainly seeing progress, but we need to see a lot more progress rapidly as it relates to technologies and using newer methodologies,” Mascolo said.
“It’s a very difficult environment because the past 10 years have been very difficult,” Gracia said. “There is an acute crisis in knowledge and capabilities that’s going to get worse before it gets better. What [do] I see at the end of the tunnel? I see that tunnel collapsing right now.”
Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.