Army applies boot camp approach to acquisition workforce

The program aims to train new contracting professionals to take on work with minimal oversight

Harry P. Hallock is executive director of the Army’s TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, Mich.

Here at the Army Contracting Command (ACC), we believe that both our short- and long-term organizational success is directly related to the manner in which our workforce is recruited, hired, integrated, developed and mentored. Particularly, we consider the first few years of a new hire's career critical for long-term, productive and satisfying government service. As a result, we focus a considerable amount of time, energy and resources to lay the foundation for our new hires’ transformation to fully productive members of our workforce.

A large percentage of our new hires come in as contracting interns. To ensure their proper development, we've structured a comprehensive, multifaceted two-year intern program that begins with a buyer boot camp. It includes tutorials on nearly every aspect of government contracting, from contract law and the appropriations process to choosing the best contract type and writing scopes of work. Interns also receive orientations on the ACC and Army mission, vision and goals, and the services and supplies we purchase and the customers we support. At some of our locations, interns also execute a simulated buy, which includes analyzing a procurement request, performing market research, determining appropriate prices and conducting negotiations.

Throughout the intern program, we use the Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement as instructional materials. Boot camp instructors are highly seasoned contracting experts who bring a wealth of experience to this training environment. Different subject-matter experts are brought in every day to teach about a variety of contracting-related topics.

Interns graduating from boot camp arrive at their first contracting assignment with the necessary knowledge and on-the-job training to begin work with minimal oversight. In our Army’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to Army missions and deployments throughout the United States and around the world, we need those folks to hit the ground running.

We place our interns at different contracting offices based on their skill sets, strengths and needs for continued development. From Day One, they are assigned to a senior buyer who provides training and guidance. Many interns also select additional mentors and coaches to assist with their continued professional development.

The two-year internship also includes organizational rotations and changing mission assignments that expose the interns to different types of contracting, a variety of customers and commodities, business operations, program management, and small-business functions. They are also required to complete the specific formal training the Army requires for acquisition certification.

We also encourage our interns to participate in our organic continuous learning programs, which provide training modules tailored to develop specific contracting skills, and we direct them toward other developmental opportunities, such as source selection boards and leadership activities. We want them to fully develop their functional expertise and interpersonal skills.

At this time, about 60 percent of our workforce has fewer than five years of government contracting experience, and interns make up 45 percent of the contracting workforce. So our midlevel leaders have a big job to train and mentor the interns. As a result, we are also recruiting for more of those experienced contracting professionals.

I am proud of our efforts across the command to develop our interns and provide a continuous learning environment for all of our employees. I am also very proud to be a leader in this growing organization.

About the Author

Harry P. Hallock is the executive director of the TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, Mich.


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