• Value in Army’s Civilian Education System

    • email print
  • Brice H. Johnson | Army Management Staff College
    If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make any noise? If professional leadership and leader development training is not required, has no cost to an organization and an Army Civilian Corps professional attends, does it have any value?
    The first question is often discussed in introductory philosophy classes, and while a great discussion point, can be answered, beyond reasonable doubt, scientifically. Falling trees produce sound waves. The second question should, arguably, be discussed among Army leaders at every echelon with a specific focus on the Army’s Civilian Education System’s myriad professional development opportunities open to all members of the ACC. This discussion is necessary and relevant due to recent changes in CES regulatory attendance guidance. The second question, currently, cannot be answered scientifically but anecdotally and through logical inference — the professionalization of the ACC, one-CES-graduate-at-a-time, cannot help but to add value to an organization.
    News flash — CES is centrally funded under the Army’s Civilian Training Program Evaluation Group and has no direct costs to students’ home station organizations. There may be a perception of indirect costs to organizations because sending an employee to CES training will result in two, three or four weeks away from his or her assigned duties.
    Instead of viewing employee absence as a liability, Army leaders should consider embracing the opportunity. What would the organization do if the employee was sick for two, three or four weeks? Arguably, another employee would have to step forward and assume the duties and responsibilities of the absent person. That employee, in effect, has just received some professional development and broadening experience, which could improve the overall effectiveness of the organization as employees are cross-trained and gain deeper appreciation for the duties and responsibilities of other supervisors and peers. Additionally, scheduled absences allow for planning and formal handoff of duties and responsibilities.
    What characteristics and skills would the ideal civilian employee possess? When asked, typical supervisors’ responses include dedication, commitment, the ability to think critically, the ability to communicate effectively, the ability to solve problems, the ability to resolve conflicts, and the ability to manage time and resources more effectively. If the CES leadership development opportunity could improve an individual employee’s skills and abilities, would that create value in an organization?
    The CES creates value for its students and their organizations directly and indirectly. CES graduates gain knowledge, tools and techniques that improve individual performance. They also gain leadership skills, approaches and perspectives that can improve their organization’s ability to accomplish its mission.
    CES curriculum underpinnings include critical thinking, effective communications and problem solving. CES graduates return to their organizations with an improved perspective on dedication, commitment and what it means to be a member of the profession. Additionally, CES graduates return with a greater sense of self-awareness, improved skills and ability to resolve conflicts in the work place, and the ability to manage time and resources more effectively.
    Page 2 of 3 - If the above assertions are true and accurate, it begs the question framed at the beginning of this article. Why would a supervisor find value in sending an employee to centrally funded leadership and leader development training that is not mandatory? It also begs the follow-up question of why are not all CES classes full?
    There may be myriad reasons for a recent trend in CES Intermediate and Advanced Course under-subscription. Possible causes are a recent change in regulatory requirements, lack of strategic messaging about CES programs and opportunities, time required to complete distributed learning prerequisite training, or lack of support from organizational leaders.
    Army Regulation 350-1, “Army Training and Leader Development,” addresses CES attendance requirements in Chapter 4. The Foundations Course is required for all new Army civilian employees hired into full-time, permanent positions after Sept. 30, 2006, and the Supervisor Development Course must be completed within the first year in a supervisory position. Supervisors are required to complete refresher training every three years. These two regulatory requirements are unchanged in the updated regulation.
    However, the previous regulatory guidance for the Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced Courses “required leader development course for all Army civilians in grades (GS 1-9 for Basic Course, GS 10-12 for Intermediate Course and GS 13-15 for Advanced Course) or equivalent.” The 2017 version of AR 350-1 now reflects the courses as required for supervisors and encouraged, but not required, for those non-supervisor employees who aspire to become leaders.
    Army civilians often have no idea that fully funded leadership and leader development opportunities are open and available. Leaders often call AMSC and say they have more employees competing for slots in the course than are available, but do not realize that 45 days before the start of every resident course, unfilled student quotas are opened to all applicants.
    All resident CES programs are blended learning, meaning students must complete a distributed learning prerequisite phase before attending the resident course. The prerequisite courses are rigorous, consisting of 76 hours for the Basic Course, 60 hours for the Intermediate Course and 106 hours for the Advanced Course. By regulation, employees can take distributed learning courses during duty hours when it does not interfere with accomplishment of assigned work. Supervisors and managers are responsible for establishing guidelines that allow employees’ duty time to complete portions of approved training courses funded by the Army.
    To further address concerns from the field about the length and difficulty of the prerequisite training, AMSC has greatly enhanced user friendliness of distributed learning course offerings. All training modules now have a pre-test, which allows employees to test out of areas in which they are knowledgeable and conversant. Each module has a downloadable deskside reference that can be used during the resident phase of the course and as a job aid in the workplace. These AMSC distributed learning initiatives have and will continue to greatly alleviate the time pressures associated with completing prerequisite training.
    Page 3 of 3 - Supervisors sometimes point out that civilian employees are hired for positions because they have the skills needed to successfully fulfill the duties and responsibilities outlined in the position description, therefore, no additional training is necessary. Additionally, it is often thought that because many Army civilian employees are former military members, they already possess the required leadership skills necessary to lead and supervise the civilian workforce.
    Civilian hiring actions are built around knowledge, skills and abilities. Supervisors and managers of civilian employees must understand merit system principles, prohibited personnel practices, Title V laws, collective bargaining unit agreements and myriad other unique parameters.
    The belief that former military leaders need no additional leadership or leader development training is sanctimonious, as the most common unsolicited comment from students graduating from resident CES courses is, “I wish I could make my supervisor attend this training.”
    The comments generally are centered on a perception that supervisors, many of whom are former military leaders, lack requisite leadership abilities in the areas of effective communications, conflict resolution, employee engagement, and counseling, coaching and mentoring. The students leaving the course recognize the value of these concepts, and in many cases perceive they are lacking in their organization’s leaders.
    If professional leadership and leader development training is not required, and has no cost to an organization, do CES courses have any value? The short answer is a resounding, “Yes.” CES is a centrally-funded leader development opportunity available to all Army civilians. The CES enables employees and leaders to ignite their leadership potential while providing Army organizations with leaders who are better equipped to lead teams, organizations, and the enterprise. Dedicated and committed professionals who think critically, communicate effectively and solve problems are value added to any organization.
    Editor’s note: Brice H. Johnson is the director of the Department of Organizational Leadership at the Army Management Staff College.
  • Comment or view comments