Building the future work force

When the Pentagon tasks you with drafting a detailed blueprint for how to

recruit and retain the future acquisition work force, it helps to be a multifaceted

person.

Keith Charles, the head of the new Pentagon Future Workforce Task Force,

knows about multitasking and hard work. Home construction is his hobby,

and he has the drill-induced scars on his left thumb to prove it.

Charles talks almost as passionately about retiling bathrooms as he

does about work force issues. Although Charles owns two homes now, at one

point he owned 18, renovating them all and dozens of others.

Charles wears two hats in the Pentagon — director of acquisition, technology

and logistics work force management, and acting director of acquisition

education, training and career development. As head of the task force, he

will help the Pentagon make the future work force more flexible, with employees

having a variety of technical, managerial, and leadership skills. "People

are overseeing a lot more work now, and they will need skills in more than

one function," Charles said. "We don't want people to be a jack-of-all-trades

and master of none, but we do want them to be very good at several."

Finding these people won't be easy. Like the rest of the government,

the Pentagon is finding it difficult to recruit new workers in today's highly

competitive job market. Up to 50 percent of the Pentagon's work force will

be eligible to retire within the next five years. The potential exodus comes

after a decade of downsizing, which reduced the acquisition work force by

half.

"We could be taking an unprecedented number of workers out of the market

at the same time we're bringing unprecedented low numbers back into the

work force. That's a huge drop, and it's a major problem not just for defense

but for the entire federal government," Charles said.

The task force's mission is twofold. First, it must report to the Pentagon

every possible legal solution to its recruiting and retention problem. Second,

it must report possible solutions that would require legislative changes.

The blueprint is due to the Pentagon at the end of July.

Charles' job is a daunting one. "I think it's pretty clear government

is not the employer of choice," said Albert Robbert, a work force analyst

with the think tank RAND. "College graduates anticipate that government

jobs will pay less and the work may not be exciting, partly because government

workers have been disparaged by politicians."

The task force is considering altering the civilian work force evaluation

process to include ratings in six broad areas: problem solving, teamwork

and cooperation, customer relations, leadership and supervision, communication

and resource management. Workers will need to receive a satisfactory rating

in each category in order to advance. Each area would be broken down into

specific job skills, such as technical credibility, flexibility, decisiveness,

resilience, strategic thinking and creativity. Recruiting and retaining

senior management-level information technology workers is the toughest challenge

in hammering out the Pentagon plan, Charles said. "Every time we better

an offer, the IT industry will turn around and double that counter offer."

The Pentagon cannot compete with private-sector salaries but may be

able to offer a number of other advantages, he said. For one thing, DOD

experience often makes IT professionals even more valuable to commercial

employers. The military could take advantage of that by making it easier

to apply military experience in the commercial sector or commercial experience

in the military.

Because military workers are often given greater responsibility than

their commercial-sector counterparts, DOD is considering an exchange program

under which commercial workers work for the military for a number of years,

gaining experience that could earn them even higher salaries upon their

return to the commercial sector. "We want to create a revolving door at

the journeyman level that would give us not only a free exchange of ideas

and information but would give the employee more experience and make him

more valuable to his company than if he had stayed in the private sector

the whole time," Charles said.

Although the Pentagon needs to recruit at all levels, Charles said it

is particularly noncompetitive at the journeyman and senior management levels.

Other options for retaining a qualified future work force may include

such things as flexible work hours, better day care arrangements, telecommuting,

more time off and job sharing.

What's more, military supervisors need greater authority and flexibility

in what they can offer employees. When someone considers leaving DOD, salary

caps often prevent supervisors from offering more money as an incentive

to stay. "That is a bankrupt human resource strategy. We have to start investing

in human capital if we're going to attract the best workers," Charles said.

MORE INFO

"Military tech workers fall out" [Federal Computer Week, March 20, 2000]

"Time for a change" [FCW.com, Feb. 28, 2000]

"Pentagon targets recruitment, high-tech training" [FCW.com, Feb. 10, 2000]

MORE INFO

Age: 52

Title: Director of acquisition, technology and logistics work force

management and acting director of acquisition education, training and career

development.

Children: Three — two daughters and a son, "who is nothing like me."

Hobby: Home construction.

Favorite author: James Michener. While a NASA congressional liaison

officer, Charles conducted research for Michener's novel Space. "You should

have seen the stacks of papers I would take to him, and he would go through

every bit of it," Charles said.

Degrees: Bachelor's in business and speech from Mankato State University;

master's and doctoral work in public administration at the University of

Southern California; participation in Harvard University's Kennedy School

of Government Program for Senior Managers in Government.

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