VA Warriors to Workforce Program Answers the Call to Serve - Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA)
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Veterans Affairs Acquisition Academy (VAAA)

 

VA Warriors to Workforce Program Answers the Call to Serve

May 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs VAnguard

Extracted from the Spring 2013 edition of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs VAnguard
By Laura Edwards

Though they come from different backgrounds and circumstances, the Veterans in the VA Acquisition Academy’s Warriors to Workforce (W2W) Program share more similarities than differences—a sense of duty and love of country, an unparalleled loyalty to one another borne of their military service, and all have experienced the wounds of war.  Many of them joined the military right out of high school with plans to devote their life to the military.  But, for many of them, the injuries they sustained on the battlefield abruptly ended their military careers.  Now, things had changed and they had to answer the question, “What’s next?”

While there has been progress in reducing the Veteran unemployment rate, in 2011, at the W2W Program’s inception, there were approximately one million unemployed Veterans, and the unemployment rate for post-9/11 Veterans, particularly 18-29 years old, was and is still, significantly higher than the rest of the Veteran population, as well as the civilian population.

With a growing shortage of contracting professionals in VA and across government, Deputy Assistant Secretary Jan R. Frye had an idea to create a program specifically for returning wounded Veterans to train them for careers as federal contract specialists. This program would address the growing shortage of this mission critical position and transition Veterans from the battlefield to the VA acquisition workforce.

“It just made sense,” said Frye, a program architect.  “We had the infrastructure and talent to stand up the program at the VA Acquisition Academy located in Frederick, Md., and it aligns with our mission of recapitalizing the VA acquisition workforce.  The program also supports the Secretary’s commitment to Veteran employment, supports agency succession planning, and supports our wounded warriors by providing them a career path where they can make a difference.”

The W2W Program became a reality in December 2011, when 23 Veterans walked through the doors of the VA Acquisition Academy ready to embark upon a new journey to become federal contract specialists responsible for buying the goods and services needed to care for our nation’s Veterans.  The cohort model provides a built-in support system and network that mirrors the team environment and camaraderie that Veterans experience in the military, easing the transition to the civilian professional world.

During Secretary Shinseki’s keynote address at the W2W ribbon cutting ceremony, he said:  “Their military training stressed the importance of integrity, and they&rsuqo;ve learned to work together in diverse teams to achieve difficult operational objectives.  Those are precisely the attributes we value in our professional Acquisition Corps.”

The W2W Program begins as a three-year developmental journey to become eligible for a career in and learn the field of acquisition.  During the first year, participants earn the 24 educational credits in business required to become contracting professionals; take peak performance training focused on managing mental, emotional, and physiological responses; learn the fundamentals of contracting; and participate in mission service.  After completion of the first year, participants transfer into the two-year Acquisition Internship Program at the academy, which includes fundamental skills development for Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting, leadership and personal skills, skill-building workshops, mission service activities, and on-the-job training.

Through collaboration with VA Veterans Employment Coordination Service, Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program, Veteran Service Organizations, and Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Transition Units, the program received 180 applications, and 23 Veterans from across the United States were chosen for the inaugural W2W class.  Many had to uproot families and move across the country, and many had fears about returning to the classroom after so many years.

W2W Interns Wesseling, Burgee, Campbell and Sarabia

“When I decided to take the challenge of moving 1,400 miles from home to embark on a new life, I was not sure where I would end up,” said W2W intern Billie Wesseling.  “As the only woman in the class of 23, I saw this as an opportunity to pave the way for women service members to follow in my footsteps.  I was very concerned with the classes that I would be taking since I had not been in school for almost 19 years.”

“This was such a big paradigm shift for them,&rduqo; said W2W Program Manager David Sella.  “The battlefield has little in common with the office or the classroom, but they hung in there and persevered.  These interns have repeatedly demonstrated some of the many qualities that make Veterans good employees – commitment, leadership, and teamwork.&rduqo;

“At first, I did not know what I was getting myself into,” said W2W intern Bryan Burgee, “but then, after a few weeks, I realized this is how I am going to make a difference.&rduqo;

In December 2012, all 23 Veterans in the program completed their first year and ascended into the two-year Acquisition Intern Program.  Not only did 100 percent earn the business credits required to advance, their cumulative GPA was 3.7, and 75 percent of the class achieved dean’s list status.  In February 2013, the interns went out on their first job rotation in VA contracting offices where they “learn by doing” under the mentorship of a senior contracting officer.

“As I look back on the past year it has not been easy,” said Wesseling, “but I swell with pride knowing that I am only nine classes away from a bachelor’s degree in business.  I think, not bad for a high school dropout that had nothing more than a mechanics background from the U.S Army.”

“I accomplished things I never thought I’d do,” said Burgee.  “This program started a new chapter in my life.  I&rsuqo;m proud to be a Veteran, and indirectly support my fellow Veterans through contracting.&rduqo;

The program has been so successful that the academy created and launched a W2W Program Management track cohort in January 2013 that is funded and sponsored by VA&rsuqo;s Office of Information and Technology (OIT).  Year one program content includes IT and business college credits, mission service, foundational program management training, and peak performance training.  In years two and three, participants will attend VAAA&rsuqo;s Program Management Fellows program.


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