Government needs wide net to recruit talent

Business schools could be great source for the acquisition workforce

As details emerge about how the federal government plans to bolster the acquisition workforce, specifically at the Defense Department, it is clear that officials need to cast a wide net to get the talent needed to make any hiring initiatives a reality and train the next generation of contract managers.

One of the great new programs making strides in this direction is the internship school at the Veterans Affairs Department’s new Acquisition Academy. During the intensive three-year program, participants develop the business skills necessary to become contracting specialists in a shifting environment in which acquisition professionals are trusted business advisers and not just administrators.

One of the better programs outside government is the National Contract Management Association’s Contract Management Leadership Development Program. The yearlong program provides participants with 180 hours of training in fundamental leadership, soft skills and contract management. It was created to help close the gap in leadership progression by accelerating the preparation of a select group of contract management professionals. The target student has two to four years of contract management experience and at least an undergraduate degree.

However, it is the country’s undergraduate and graduate business schools that have the greatest potential to improve the government’s hiring strategies for its acquisition workforce and help shape the profession’s future. The federal government should be focusing its attention on that fertile ground. As jobs on Wall Street dry up, many students from the country’s top business schools are considering positions with the federal government.

Those students are perfect candidates for federal contracting jobs and the aforementioned intern and contracting programs. They have spent the past four years, or two years for master’s degree recipients, developing the business skills and experience necessary to differentiate themselves in a competitive job market through summer internships and consulting programs. Such internships have become important opportunities for employers and students to create lasting relationships and high-value work.

Those graduates would make excellent candidates for a career in contract management because they come with a solid business foundation and the skills necessary to succeed in a profession that finds itself in crisis and a state of transition.

It is imperative that the government follow through on its initiatives to expedite the hiring process for contract managers. And transforming the contract management culture is crucial to that goal. The career field has been characterized by an inflexible environment that undervalues contract personnel. The profession must continue reforming itself into one that is flexible and follows private-sector hiring strategies that include adequate training, focused professional development, competitive salaries and a next-generation workforce development initiative.

Furthermore, hiring reforms must include college graduates as one of the focal points for the profession. Initiatives to hire such talented workers will fall apart quickly if those employees walk out the door before they have the opportunity to have a positive effect on the government’s contracting mission.

About the Author

Jaime Gracia is president and CEO of Seville Government Consulting, a federal acquisition and program management consulting firm.

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