Recruiting, Army style

As many agencies struggle to find skilled information technology workers, the Army is betting on a unique program to help attract new recruits to its ranks and help industry at the same time.

The Partnership for Youth Success (PaYS) is a new program developed by the U.S. Army Recruiting Command to attract young people by offering valuable hands-on training and the opportunity for a quality civilian job when they leave after three or six years of service.

"It is designed to expand the market for Army recruiting," said Col. Robert Qualls, PaYS program manager at Fort Knox, Ky. "The secondary benefit is it provides young people with an option and opportunity for post-Army employment." The program is also designed to "re-connect America with the Army."

The Army matches eligible new recruits with vendors participating in the PaYS program based on the job specialty the recruits choose and based on where the vendors anticipate a need will be three to six years down the road. Vendors are looking into a "fuzzy crystal ball" to forecast the openings they will need to fill, Qualls said.

A signed letter of intent between the recruit and the vendor promises the recruit preferential employment after completing his or her military service. However, neither the company nor the soldier is legally bound by the agreement.

Six months before leaving the Army, a soldier eligible for PaYS will transition to civilian life with help from the Army Career and Alumni Program and the company he or she selected to work with upon enlistment. Final coordination with the company, which includes a job application, interviews and pre-employment visitation, will occur before the soldier departs the service.

Not everyone who enlists is eligible for PaYS. But recruits signing up for certain "military occupational specialties" — such as computer programmer/analyst, electronics mechanic and radio technician — will have the option of joining PaYS. Starting Oct. 1, PaYS will also be open to Army reservists who complete basic training and return home to serve in their unit.

The PaYS program is limited to 5,000 soldiers a year out of about 79,000 who enlist, Qualls said. So far, the Army has signed up nearly 400 recruits under PaYS, some who will reach the end of their three-year enlistment in August 2003. The Army officially launched the program in January. At present, there are nine PaYS vendors, including DynCorp and Electronic Data Systems Corp., but this number is likely to grow, Qualls said.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for us to build a pipeline," said Leslie Taylor, director of employment at DynCorp. "The Army gives us a sketch of folks being trained in specific categories from the beginning. We keep in contact with them, and they give us updates on folks coming in and the skills sets" they will have.

DynCorp has identified certain labor categories such as helicopter maintenance and anyone with a computer science background where, based on prior experience, it has traditionally had jobs to fill, Taylor said. "We also have flexibility because we are constantly working on new contracts and new proposals."

For EDS, networking, systems engineering and database engineering are the types of jobs it is looking to fill through PaYS, said spokeswoman Eileen Cassidy. "A lot of these people come out of school, and they have an education, but not practical experience," she said. "So when they actually come out of the Army, they have practical experience we can put to good use."

Marjorie Bynum, vice president for workforce development at the Information Technology Association of America, said the program taps into an under-utilized population: the military.

"It's a very creative and innovative approach in thinking about ways to fill vacant [IT] positions," she said.

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