CMS, VA looking outside classroom to retrain acquisition workforce

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has begun standing up a career roadmap aimed at helping its contracting workforce move up the agency’s ranks.

“It’s building on the technical skills foundation of the contracting management function, but then helping evolve our workforce to how do we run the business, how do we evolve and transform the business, how do we drive that innovation and the culture change,” Melissa Starinsky, the director of CMS’s Office of Acquisition and Grants Management, said Tuesday at the National Contract Mangement Symposium in Arlington, Virginia.

The agency remains in the early stages of implementing the roadmap, and is building out continuing education opportunities for employees to take the next step in their careers.

“What we were hearing from our employees in my organization [is] really wanting clarity on what does it take to advance in this organization,” Starinsky said. “If you are aspiring to be a team leader, if you’re aspiring to be a mid-level manager, if you’re aspiring to be a senior leader in our organization, we actually mapped out what we think it takes to be successful in each of those roles.”

The CMS roadmap marks the latest data point in the Trump administration’s continued push to retrain government employees for the skillsets of the future.

On Nov. 30, Suzette Kent, the federal chief information officer, launched a cyber reskilling academy aimed at giving non-IT federal employees an opportunity to become cyber defense analysts.

VA workforce ‘flexible’ in continuous learning

But agencies have also looked at their own ways, other than a traditional classroom setting, to retrain the workforce.

Ruby Harvey, the chancellor of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Acquisition Academy, said the organization has moved to more virtual, instructor-led training. 

“There are those instances that we will take the academy to you, rather than you come to our brick-and-mortar location in Fredrick, Maryland,” Harvey said.

Harvey said the VA acquisition workforce has kept up with trends in technology, but noted there’s still “an embrace of traditional methods” for continuous learning. But the agency still offers an array of learning options to meet the needs of employees.

“Our goal is to prepare our workforce members with the right tools, for the right requirements, understanding that if more is required, we look into that as well,” Harvey said. “But the modalities that we offer right now seem to work well.”

But the adoption of new outreach tools also extends to recruiting efforts. Harvey said VA has started reaching out to prospective acquisition employees through Facebook Live.

“We are flexible, we are adaptable in our methods, and so far, we believe we’re doing quite well by our workforce members,” he said.

The agency has also seen success with its a senior acquisition leadership training (SALT), which helps employees who are between GS-13 and GS-15 prepare to make the next step up the career ladder.

“We were finding that there was a gap in terms of the readiness of individuals serving at that level,” Harvey said. “They possessed all of the technical skills necessary to get the job done prior to their elevation of the organization, but there was just a general lack of readiness.”

The training consists of onsite and virtual classroom settings, and takes about eight months to complete.

“We will bring those individuals in, and we will actually introduce them to real-world challenges that will help them become better at critical thinking, better at solution delivery.”

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