Building Leaders and Growing Engineers
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Engineer Regiment are focused on training, development and education of current and future engineers and leaders so they may continue to help solve the nation’s toughest challenges for generations to come.
By Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, P.E., USA
Members of FIRST Robotics Team 456 from Vicksburg, Miss., watch as U.S. Army Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Thomas Bostick, USA, drives the team’s robot during a visit to the Education Outreach Center at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. PHOTO COURTESY ERDC.
On March 16, 1802, Congress permanently established the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and with it, the nation’s first engineering school, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. Since that time, Army engineers have built coastal fortifications, mapped and surveyed the West, managed inland waterways and ports, constructed much of our nation’s infrastructure, even built iconic landmarks in Washington, D.C.
USACE and the Engineer Regiment have answered the nation’s call to solve difficult challenges in times of exploration and development, war and peace, epic disaster and economic expansion. Today we face a growing number of critical and divergent challenges, from aging infrastructure to sustaining the environment to resource competition. The nation requires leaders and teams of innovative civilian and military professionals imbued with a value of service to solve our greatest challenges now and for generations to come.
SHAPING THE ENTERPRISE
USACE and the Engineer Regiment have always shared commitment to developing all members of our team. Leader development and talent management efforts will help ensure we maintain critical knowledge as the “Baby Boomer” generation retires and the military draws down. Successful organizations have robust systematic leader development programs. They manage talent enterprise-wide. And they foster a collaborative knowledge management culture.
At the center of our talent management process is diversity—and it refers to not only our talent, but diversity in thought, gender, ethnicity, background and experiences. This enables the organization to approach challenges collaboratively and through differing perspectives.
All USACE leaders shape the workforce to meet evolving requirements. Just as the military task organizes to execute diverse mission sets, USACE develops technically specialized and broadly used common skill sets within its employees to build a team with the required needs for emerging missions. Having the right person with the right skill set in the right place and at the right time is challenging and takes considerable proactive planning. The key to our continued success is being able to attract, recruit and retain high-quality employees while competing with other public and private organizations for the same talent.
The ultimate objective of our science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) efforts is to provide USACE, our industry and the nation with a pipeline of highly educated, experienced and motivated individuals for future employment. And that process starts early. One of our priorities is being a strong advocate for education and training in STEM. Countless USACE staff members selflessly volunteer to raise awareness of the many rewarding opportunities in STEM fields. The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) maintains robust STEM outreach—reaching more than 8,000 students in FY2014. The many programs, involving over 200 scientists and engineers, include FIRST Robotics, eCYBERMISSION, and GEMS (Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science). ERDC also serves as the lead for the Army Education Outreach Program’s Camp Invention events held during the summer.
ERDC hosts 12 student programs that provide a range of opportunities for temporary or part-time employment while students pursue academic studies. These opportunities engage students in real-world projects, letting them work alongside scientists and engineers to solve engineering and environmental problems. Annually, ERDC employs 300 students from over 70 schools in 30 states across America.
USACE also partners with the U.S. Military Academy and the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) through the Cadet District Engineer Program, which assigns cadets to projects and connects them to our districts, centers and labs for three to four weeks during the summer. These projects often translate into rewarding experiences as students can continue their research at school in the form of capstone projects. For the past two years, the Engineer Regiment exceeded its goal of accessing 90 percent of engineer officers with STEM-related degrees from West Point, and 70 percent from ROTC. This is a significant gain, as just a few years ago only 45 percent of Engineer Branch accessions had an engineering or related background. Even with the focus on STEM, though, non-STEM-degreed officers add great value, expertise and diversity of thought. We absolutely need a team with a diverse background.
DEVELOP AND SUSTAIN
USACE supports employee and leadership development. Civilians are encouraged to participate in Army and Department of Defense programs such as the Civilian Education System, Senior Enterprise Talent Management, Defense Senior Leader Development Program, Emerging Leader Development Program, and the Army Civilian Training, Education and Development System. Military engineers progress through enlisted or officer training at various points in one’s career, gradually increasing in scope and complexity. In USACE, we have some flexibility in determining what specialized technical skills both military engineers and civilian employees pursue and how it is accomplished.
Recently, USACE was appointed as the lead for the Army Engineers and Scientists Career Program. To help facilitate mission requirements, USACE Communities of Practice have been developed to help shape the Army civilian career program. Leaders and supervisors foster continuous learning by providing incentives to seek and maintain professional licenses and certifications. Our Contracting and Resource Management Directorates provide examples of two of our best leader development programs and demonstrate how USACE is not only composed of engineers, but a team of professionals with distinct training and development requirements. As an example, USACE provides its civilian financial experts with an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in Business Administration at Syracuse University and our legal team recruits some of the best and brightest through its intern program.
USACE supports developing technical, administrative and leadership competencies through the competitive Academic Degree Training Program and active participation in the Proponent Sponsored Engineer Corps Training Program. The Engineer Regiment’s Resource Menu initiative progressively builds upon career attributes and competencies and integrates three learning domains (institutional, operational and self).
The U.S. Army Engineer School leads a comprehensive effort to review and restructure the student curriculum for industry-recognized credentialing for our enlisted, warrant officers and commissioned officers. The Engineer Regiment’s Credential, Education, Certification and License Program is an ongoing effort to make credentialing a continual experience throughout their careers. This enables soldiers to increase their technical knowledge as they serve while setting the conditions for post-Army careers. For example, an Army firefighter currently earns 22 credit hours towards an associate’s degree in Fire Science along with seven certifications just by graduating from Advanced Individual Training. The intent, eventually, is to create opportunities in all 22 Engineer Military Occupation Specialties.
Mentorship is extremely important to leader development and talent management as well. Leaders and supervisors within USACE and the Engineer Regiment have the responsibility of identifying and connecting with emerging leaders. Mentors discuss with junior employees future assignments that will provide necessary experiences and skill development. Leaders should actively seek employees to mentor. Equally so, employees should seek a mentor with aligned interests and goals.
USACE encourages everyone to strive for improvement by taking advantage of developmental assignments outside of their career path and technical training. The desire is to expand perspectives and understand how it all relates to the enterprise. We encourage our civilian employees to deploy in support of combat and contingency operations around the globe and disaster assistance in the United States. Deployments offer unparalleled developmental value and opportunities on personal and professional levels, resulting in a more experienced and well-rounded employee.
The Engineer Regiment has several 12- to 24-month developmental programs designed for junior military engineer officers. The most popular program is the Technical Engineer Competency Development Program. The program exposes junior captains to civil construction and technical fields; improves project management skills; and helps them to understand the roles and functions of USACE. Other development programs include opportunities for Geospatial and Special Operations Engineer Officers. These assignments of military officers to USACE positions, deployments, and leadership and training programs are not the only available developmental opportunities. There are similar opportunities for enlisted soldiers and warrant officers.
The Engineer Regiment and the Army also support Training with Industry and Advanced Civil Schooling. Both programs are designed to enhance technical skills and knowledge while broadening perspectives and experiences.
Joseph Tribbey of USACE Honolulu District and Cadet Matt S. Borland discuss the Quad B Renovation Project on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. The Cadet District Engineer Program connects cadets with USACE districts, centers and labs for three to four weeks in the summer. USACE HONOLULU DISTRICT PHOTO BY JOSEPH BONFIGLIO
Knowledge management is fundamental to developing and sustaining our employees. ERDC serves as the lead in developing knowledge management systems and improving organizational processes, enabling information and knowledge to grow, flow and create value.
USACE employs a Chief Knowledge Officer who is responsible for developing and implementing the Enterprise Knowledge Management Strategic Plan. As Baby Boomers leave the workforce, and given the high interest in social media today, a strong knowledge management program is essential to our success in labor development and talent management.
FOR GENERATIONS TO COME
Attracting, recruiting, developing, sustaining and transitioning our civilian employees and military engineers benefits the individual as well as USACE, the Army, our industry and the nation. We value the experience, service and skills of current employees, senior leaders and leaders emeritus through collaboration, mentorship and knowledge-sharing to help develop future generations. Our programs provide a highly-skilled and productive workforce, even when these men and woman transition to other phases of their lives, be it in public service or in industry.
Finally, effective development of emerging leaders enables USACE to build and sustain valued relationships with stakeholders, governmental entities, academia, professional associations and industry that spans generations and solves our biggest challenges. Our focus on leader development echoes that of senior Army leaders.
“Our top priority,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno recently said, “is to develop agile and adaptive leaders at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. Leader development is the deliberate, continuous and progressive process—built on a foundation of trust and founded in Army values—that grows soldiers and civilians into competent, committed professional leaders of character.”
Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, P.E., USA, is U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He can be reached through HQ USACE at 202-761-0001.