SRA chief stimulates growth through training

When SRA International Inc. made this year's Fortune magazine list of the

100 best companies to work for in America, Ernst Volgenau, the company's

chief executive, knew he was doing something right.

During the past several years, Volgenau, who founded the consulting and

systems integration firm in 1978, has beefed up the company's employee training

program to cover a wide range of subjects, from information technology

project management to Extensible Markup Language.

The result, he said, is more satisfied workers and better performers. "When

a worker makes a decision whether or not to join a company, they tend to

be interested in the kind of work they'll be doing and their chance of professional

advancement," Volgenau said. "Training is one part of professional advancement."

It's difficult to measure the impact a comprehensive training program

has on attracting and retaining employees in today's tight labor market.

However, that's no reason not to do it, Volgenau said.

"We believe if we continue to make SRA a good place to work that a lot

of people will choose to stay, and more people will choose to join us,"

he said. "Trying to cut back on training and benefits because you're worried

about turnover is, in my view, short-sighted."

Employees are essential to the growth of the company, Volgenau said.

Over the past 10 years, SRA has experienced a compound annual revenue growth

rate of almost 25 percent, mainly through internal growth, not acquisitions.

The objective is to grow more than 20 percent annually.

"We would like to be a bigger and more diversified company," Volgenau

said. "We would like to be one of the world's best companies. We have high

ideas and high goals."

Volgenau's primary volunteer job as chairman of the Information Technology

Association of America (ITAA) Workforce and Education Committee keeps him

aware of the challenges that agencies and companies are facing as they compete — often with each other — for IT workers.

Volgenau has been an effective leader in ITAA's education and work force

efforts, said Harris Miller, president of ITAA. "Having someone who is a

CEO of a company leading our work force effort is very important," Miller

said. "The fact that someone who is as busy as Ernst spends time helping

us to develop our programs is a real tribute to him personally."

There is "no simple answer to the [worker] shortage," but industry working

in partnership with government can help, Volgenau said.

In addition to the shortage of IT workers, the government also faces

an aging work force. About 71 percent of government senior executives will

be eligible to retire at the end of fiscal 2005. The government will likely

outsource more work as its cadre of IT workers shrinks, which means contract

management skills will be more important, Volgenau said.

A type of government ROTC program that would give IT workers a free

education in exchange for government service makes sense, Volgenau said.

He knows firsthand how a government job can give a person a lot of experience

at a young age. Volgenau was commissioned as an Air Force lieutenant in

1955 after he graduated from the Naval Academy. Early in his career, he

worked on the development of space boosters and satellites and taught in

the field of astronautics.

"The military is good at training people. During the Cold War, young officers

had great responsibility. They had contractor teams under them building

weapons systems," he said. Today, the government must manage large IT systems

that deliver services to citizens. "Those jobs will be done largely by contractors,

but someone has to manage those contractors," he said. "An employee can

have great responsibility and fulfillment doing that."

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