Soldiers now have the military’s best career transition program, which the Army began re-engineering about three years ago, said the program’s director.
That re-engineering was the result of “a pretty detailed analysis and a lot of surveys and interviews and discussions with Soldiers,” said Walter Herd, Army Career and Alumni Program, or ACAP, director. The program helps Soldiers with their transition from military to civilian life.
Herd said discussions led to three important take-away messages.
First, it was found that those Soldiers who had the most successful transitions were the ones who started the transition process early and spread that process out over time, touching bases with relevant experts along the way, he said.
“So the earlier you begin and the more you engage, the more successful you are,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Second, ACAP found that commanders need to be supportive of their Soldiers’ transition process, become more involved and understand where their Soldiers are in the process.
“We found when commanders do that and know what their Soldiers are doing, Soldiers are more successful,” he said.
It might seem common sense that leaders would support that, but it isn’t always the case, he said.
The most common comment on surveys was “this is a great program, but my first sergeant won’t let me go,” Herd said.
Leaders are becoming more and more aware of that but the message still needs to be reinforced, he emphasized.
Third, Soldiers need to meet career readiness standards and commanders need to track progress on Soldiers attaining those standards well before their transition date, he said.
Those standards include: Department of Veterans Affairs benefits counseling; Army pre-separation counseling; Department of Labor workshop attendance; a 12-month, post-transition budget plan; continuum of military service opportunity counseling — for active duty only; a military occupational specialty analysis of skill-sets applicable to civilian jobs; individual assessment tool to determine proficiencies; individual transition planning with a counselor; creation of a job application package, including completed resumes for targeted employment, reference lists, and two job applications or job offer letters; and follow-on activity with the Department of Labor, the VA and if applicable, the Small Business Administration.
Until about two years ago, ACAP was a voluntary and staff-coordinated effort. Commanders didn’t have visibility over how their Soldiers were doing in getting ready for leaving the Army.
About that time, Congress passed the VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, designed to address some of the challenges of veteran unemployment.
At the same time, the president directed the Office of the Secretary of Defense to add policy mandates to the VOW Act.
Significant resources have been allocated to increasing size and number of brick-and-mortar ACAP centers, now found on all major installations and most others.
The number of ACAP counselors has tripled over the last couple of years, totally about 700 counselors at about 75 locations on installations, including centers used by the National Guard and Reserve.
“Their sole task is to help Soldiers reach their career-readiness standards,” Herd said.
Additional counselors are also at the Army’s virtual ACAP center. Soldiers can log on to it at www.acap.army.mil or call toll-free 1-800-325-4715 to chat with a master’s degree-level counselor 24/7.
Every month, about 2,000 Soldiers log into the virtual ACAP center to work on their individualized transition plans. More Soldiers are visiting the site every month. No other service has a similar virtual transition assistance website, Herd said.
Herd encourages Soldiers to both visit the ACAP center on post as well as use the virtual ACAP center online.
Today, Soldiers still do most of their transition work during the 12 to 24 months before separation, he said.
“Over the next six or eight months, we’re going to spread that planning across the entire Soldier lifecycle, beginning at Basic Training level and at key points in their careers.”
For example, a Soldier doing 20 years, might do a resume and budget at the eight and 12 year time, he said.
That would let those career Soldiers know where they stand in relation to military-to-civilian job skill sets and would also better enable them to assist and counsel their own younger Soldiers, having gone through the process themselves, he said.
Another step the Army is taking is to codify the transition process in a campaign plan and in an Army regulation that should be published within about a year.
Herd concluded that while ACAP is important for Soldiers, it is equally important they do it for their families. Spouses are encouraged to attend the workshops available to their Soldiers, he said.
As the Army draws down its force, approximately 20,000 NCOs will be subject to involuntary separation or discontinuation of service through fiscal year 2017.
AR 635-200, Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations, gives the Army the authority to initiate the involuntary separation of Soldiers as a result of reductions in force, strength limitations or budgetary constraints. In 2010, when the Army started to look at how to use that authority, the Army G-1 instituted the Qualitative Service Program and Qualitative Management Program.
The Qualitative Service Program applies to NCOs — from staff sergeants to sergeants major — in military occupational specialties that have been identified as being overstrength by the Army G-1 and ranks NCOs according to their potential. The Qualitative Management Program looks at NCOs across the Army and ranks them according to the Soldier’s potential or capability to meet the Army’s needs. All NCOs who are sergeants first class and above with 19 years of service are subject to the QMP.
NCOs who involuntarily separate under QMP will not be able to receive temporary early retirement or be allowed to return to active duty without a waiver. Also, they must leave no later than the first day of the seventh month following the board’s decision.
Gerald Purcell, the Army G-1’s personnel policy integrator, said the program will follow a board schedule in which staff sergeants are considered for QSP during the annual sergeant first class promotion board, sergeants first class are considered during the master sergeant board, master sergeants during the sergeant major training and selection board, and sergeants major during the nominative command sergeant major/command selection list promotion board.
“[The QSP] capitalizes on our existing centralized selection board process to assess Soldiers who are being considered for involuntary separation based on their potential for future contributions to the Army — just like a promotion board does,” Purcell said. “This process targets skills that are excess requirements. Soldiers holding MOSs that are balanced or short are not going to be subject to this program.”
NCOs will be notified before the board convenes that they are being considered for QSP. Once the board convenes, an official notification will be made to the Soldier’s first general officer, then to the battalion commander.
“All of these Soldiers are fully qualified Soldiers who we would otherwise desire to keep,” Purcell said. “However, as we shape the force to meet changing requirements, we recognize that many fantastic Soldiers will be identified for denial of continued service. We also recognize that we must do this as we shape the force in an effort to ensure we retain those NCOs who have the greatest potential for future contributions, retaining the highest levels of readiness and capability in an all-volunteer Army.”
An NCO may appeal the board’s decision, but only if he or she believes that his or her record contained material errors. An NCO who wishes to stay in the Army may also seek reclassification to a shortage MOS to fit the Army’s needs. However, the NCO must have a course date that begins within the six months following the notification of separation under QSP.
“Making yourself more useful to the Army is always a good thing,” Purcell said.
NCOs separated under QSP may apply for early retirement if they have at least 15 years of active federal service at the date of separation. However, these Soldiers can no longer transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents. If in the future, the Army needs the skills separated Soldiers have, they will be able to return to active duty. Soldiers will also have a minimum of 12 months from the board’s decision to transition to civilian life. They must serve at least 90 days, by law, before they separate. In addition, the board’s decision isn’t made public.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to recognize that they are quality people,” Purcell said. “We really want to take care of them as they leave. We want to maximize their ability to take advantage of the transition assistance programs we have.” ♦
QMP: Qualitative management program — Focuses on senior NCOs (E-7 to E-9) who may be denied for continued service because of performance, conduct or potential for advancement that does not meet Army standards.
QSP: Overstrength Qualitative Service Program — Looks at E-6 to E-9 NCOs for denial of continued service in select military occupational specialities where the 12-month operating strength projections exceed 100 percent. If otherwise qualified, NCOs may voluntarily reclassify into a shortage MOS.
QSP: Promotion stagnation Qualitative Service Program — Board will consider E-6 to E-9 NCOs for discontinuation of service in select MOSs or skill levels where promotion stagnation is evident.
Boards that decide whether a Soldier should be involuntarily separated use the same criteria that a promotion board looks at. The board develops an Order of Merit List and focuses on those at the bottom of the list to make a determination. Some items considered are:
Personnel qualification record: The board reviews the NCO’s personnel qualification record to determine range of assignments, military and civilian education, and additional training.
Official photograph is used to judge a Soldier’s appearance and to note awards, medals and badges.
Moral and ethical conduct: The board considers whether a Soldier’s conduct is incompatible or inconsistent with the Army’s values or the values of the NCO Corps.
Efficiency and performance: The board looks at whether the NCO is unable to perform NCO duties in his or her current grade or if there has been a decline noted in the NCO’s NCO Evaluation Report, including failing NCO Education System courses, disciplinary problems or bars to re-enlistment.
Physical standards: The board considers whether the NCO is able to maintain physical standards or comply with the Army body composition program.
Official Military Personnel File: The board reviews the performance portion (P-fiche) of the Soldier’s OMPF.
Several initiatives are under way to let Soldiers develop personally and professionally while they’re in the Army and to better prepare them for life after their service. And the Army Career Tracker is there to help. The online portal, originally launched in June 2011, is continually being updated to assist Soldiers and their leaders to define career goals, create and ensure timetables are met for those goals, and help fulfill objectives both inside and outside the Army.
“The idea here of the Army Career Tracker is to support what we call the lifecycle of the Soldier,” said Jeffrey Colimon, a project officer with Training & Doctrine Command’s Institute of NCO Professional Development. “In other words: to provide a development program and development opportunities with a timetable that must be formally instituted as soon as individual service members enter the military to ensure not only that they are military-ready, but that they are also career-ready.”
The ACT encourages Soldiers to develop an Individual Development Plan, with both short- and long-term goals related to their military careers and their careers after the Army. The IDP can be used by Soldiers and their leaders to track training, military education, civilian education and a host of other development paths. The ACT is also open to Department of the Army civilians.
Sgt. Maj. Jerry Bailey is the course manager for Structured Self-Development, based at the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas. The ACT has become an important part of his briefings when he’s telling Soldiers and leaders about SSD.
“The No. 1 way I tell them to access SSD is through the Army Career Tracker, because it eliminates a lot of steps and gets Soldiers where they’re supposed to be at the level they’re supposed to be. It takes out the guess work.”
That’s one of the big advantages of the ACT — it consolidates information from several systems and presents it at one central site, said Master Sgt. Chadwick Wormer of INCOPD’s Learning Integrations Division, which oversees the ACT.
The ACT “is still up and coming, he said. “There are still a lot more enhancements that we’re working on. But as far as what it can do and what it’s really designed for, it’s a leadership development tool. It will integrate training, education and on-the-job experience, and it puts everything into one easy-to-use interface. It gives you search capabilities, mostly for other systems that house education and training resources. It’s more efficient and effective for a Soldier to use it to monitor their career development. It’s something that I never had when I was a young Soldier. I was only as good as my first-line leader, so what my first-line leader knew is all I knew. What the Army Career Tracker does is it
puts younger Soldiers on a level playing field.”
The ACT includes the Integrated Total Army Database, GoArmy Education, the Army Learning Management System, the Army Training Requirements and Resources System, and nearly a dozen other resources. And the LID is constantly working on including more systems, Wormer said.
Among the latest improvements to the ACT being worked on is the full integration of available credentialing, which will help Soldiers obtain private-sector certifications they qualify for based on their military occupational specialties and work within the Army.
In June 2012, President Barack Obama announced the “We Can’t Wait” initiative, which is intended to let service members obtain civilian credentials and licenses for manufacturing and other high-demand skills they received from attending military schools. “Our economy needs their outstanding talent,” Obama said in his address in Golden Valley, Minn., announcing the initiative.
Under the president’s direction, the Department of Defense established the Military Credentialing and Licensing Task Force, which identified military specialties that readily transfer to high-demand jobs and worked with civilian credentialing and licensing associations to address gaps between military training programs and credentialing and licensing requirements.
In October, the Defense Department launched a pilot program that included five occupational areas — aircraft mechanics, automotive mechanics, health care, supply and logistics, and truck drivers. Seventeen military specialties are included in those occupational areas.
“What we’ve asked the services to do … is to look at those five areas. Look at their specific military occupational codes, marry them up and get some people into the pilot program,” said Frank C. DiGiovanni, the Defense Department’s director of training readiness and strategy.
The program began in October, he said, and as it progresses, officials will examine whether existing military training is sufficient to qualify service members for civilian credentials. Where the current training is found to be insufficient, DiGiovanni added, the department will determine if the program can be adjusted or if training from external sources is necessary.
The pilot is one of several Defense Department Credentialing and Licensing Task Force initiatives, Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said.
“We’re looking at how we can better document and translate military training and experience so that civilian credentialing agencies and states can better understand the nature of military training and award appropriate credit,” she said.
Although the credentialing program is still in the pilot phase and Colimon said MOS-credentialing information won’t be completely integrated until 2014, the ACT already includes a bevy of information on civilian accreditations and their relationships to military MOSs.
“We’ve been working a lot of things with [credentialing],” Wormer said. “Because we link to training, and we link to not only the training you’ve completed in the past but the training you’re scheduled for, we also show other training that you might want or need to enhance your career. And some of that training is credentialing.
“Credentialing is, for some MOSs, very specific. For instance, the Army has truck drivers; well, civilians have the CDL, the commercial driver license. It pretty much goes hand-in-hand. What we work to do is to bridge the gap between what the civilian equivalent and the military is training. In other words, when you go to school to be a truck driver in the Army, you’re going to get about 90 percent of the training and you would need an additional 10 percent to finish your CDL. Army Career Tracker is working to bridge that gap, so that you’re receiving almost 100 percent. So when you complete your AIT in the Army, it’s a done deal: You’re CDL qualified. And it’s not just the truck drivers; it’s many MOSs. And some of them are more obvious and more comparable than others.”
A complete list of MOS-specific credentialing opportunities is available at the Credentialing Opportunities On-Line site, www.cool.army.mil, and that information is also available through the ACT.
“The idea of the IDP inside the Army Career Tracker to support the military lifecycle is actually to provide [users] an integrated approach — an integrated approach to supporting the Soldiers’ personal and professional development that capitalizes on the mutual needs of lifelong learning,” Colimon said. “So the Soldier does not concentrate on trying to get a degree, trying to get some credentialing at the point of transition or at the point of departure. Instead they start throughout their career, whether they’re a one-term Soldier or going to retire from the Army. They actually supplement the military training with civilian training and education so that, at the point of the departure, they are more credible. This approach is mutually beneficial to the Army because it gets a better-prepared Soldier while he or she is serving and potentially a better civilian at the exit point — whatever that is at the point of transition, whether it’s separation or retirement.”
In addition to promoting the ACT as a tool for SSD, Bailey has used the system to track his Soldiers’ and employees’ goals.
“It builds a counseling report for you, so that you don’t have to guess,” Bailey said. “It gives me that information that I can use to provide the positive feedback or the things that I think we need to get after. Then I can provide that input into the Army Career Tracker. It provides a lot of data.”
Soldiers and their leaders build goals together in the ACT, and Soldiers can also request that users who are not necessarily their supervisors act as mentors through the system.
“Soldiers had asked me to be their mentor when they signed up,” Bailey said. “Now I can look at those Soldiers, and the same things that I do for my employees, I can do for those Soldiers as a mentor.”
That reinforcement from mentors can be invaluable, Bailey said. “If you see information and direction from a leader and a mentor, you’re more apt to do it.”
Bailey has also used the system for his own professional development.
“At USASMA, we’re not doing MOS-material things. It’s all educational stuff,” he said. “I’m an Army engineer, and there’s not an Army engineer department over there. So I’m not necessarily keeping up with all the different gates or things that engineering has to offer. But through the Army Career Tracker, it keeps me in tune with: Here are upcoming things for engineers, here are what engineers are now doing, or here are the credentialing classes or schools or courses out there for engineers. I don’t have to go through GoArmy and all this other stuff to find out this same information. It’s already there on that site.”
Colimon said growth in users of the ACT has grown quickly, with the site adding about 4,000 users a week and more than 25,000 goals already created. And Wormer said reaction to the site has been universally positive.
“We have very good reviews. Our hardest part is getting the word out there about our system,” he said. “We use a profile communication, where we are able to target certain profiles of people, whether it’s by installation, whether it’s by MOS, whether it’s by their rank, or maybe we just want to target somebody Armywide. … When we send the profile communications out, we often get feedback: ‘Hey, what’s this? I’ve never heard of it,’ or sometimes we just assume they’re deleting it because we don’t get anything. But we send these out, and the users who have never seen it, the very first time we show them the functionalities, immediately you can see a lightbulb come on: ‘Hey, I wish I’d known about this. It’s amazing.’” ♦
The American Forces Press Service contributed to this story.
Top Army Career Tracker questions
What is an Individual development Plan? It is a document completed by individuals to track self-development, both short-term (a year or less) and long-term. This plan is then reviewed and discussed with a leader or mentor to match the individual’s goals with an organization’s goals. Various options and approaches to achieve the plan are discussed. This plan is reviewed and updated at a minimum annually.
Why is it important to have an IDP? IDPs can be a win-win strategy because they benefit both the Soldier and the Army as a whole. Implementing an IDP helps Soldiers enhance their knowledge, skills and experiences. The Army benefits by developing improved Soldier capabilities and enhanced communication. IDPs also support a Soldier’s lifelong learning and transition lifecycle by allowing him or her to plan and track development from enlistment to transition.
Why do you have to create an IDP? The Secretary of the Army Memorandum, “Army Transition Policy,” dated Aug. 29, 2011, established mandatory use of the IDP. It ensures first-term Soldiers receive counseling within 30 days of arrival to their first permanent duty station; part of the process is creating an IDP.
How does the ACT help Soldiers develop an IDP? The Army Career Tracker allows users to plan and track their development in concert with their leaders and mentors. ACT provides an easy-to-use interface for users and supervisors to create, approve and track an IDP.
— Source: INCOPD
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