New DoD-OPM partnership opens up world of reskilling possibilities, agencies say

As one of the lead agencies driving the Trump administration’s efforts to reskill and train the federal workforce for future kinds of work, the Office of Personnel Management just scored a big partner.

The Defense Department has agreed to use OPM’s USALearning platform, the agency’s fee-for-service training and education consultancy, in an effort to abandon thousands of duplicative education courses and learning management systems.

A memorandum of understanding, which the two agencies signed Friday, makes the partnership official. The  agencies signed the agreement under OPM’s revolving fund and training program assistance authorities.

Partnering with the largest government agency will also help inform the administration’s ongoing effort to better understand how federal employees learn and reskill them for future work, said Margaret Weichert, OPM’s acting director and deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget.

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“DoD represents the largest pool of employment we have in government,” she told reporters Friday afternoon. “So many of our federal civilian workers have either experience on the military side and come to us as veterans or cycle through programs at DoD. I see this as an opportunity to get the largest single population in every stripe on a platform where there’s consistency. The metadata about how they learn, as well as what they’re focused on learning and how quickly we’re able to deploy new types of learning, will be amazing.”

USALearning is an education and training shared services center that lives within OPM’s fee-for-service Human Resources Solutions (HR Solutions). About 22 agencies already use OPM’s USALearning platform. Those customer agencies have access to five core training classes today, which include mandatory courses on sexual harassment, government ethics and others.

For DoD, this process started nearly a year ago when the department stood up the DoD Reform Management Group. That group started a review of its roughly 1,800 separate business systems last summer, and DoD’s wide-ranging training and education portfolio emerged as an area that was in need of consolidation.

The department has more than 50,000 known learning courses, which are separately managed in different ways and under 161 distinct learning management systems, said Lisa Hershman, DoD’s acting chief management officer.

“Moving to USALearning platform will reduce the redundancy in common learning courses and will allow us to move to a DoD-wide common course catalog,” she said Friday afternoon at a ceremony to celebrate the new OPM partnership.

Hershman said there isn’t a concrete goal to reduce the number of training courses or learning management systems. As part of the new partnership, OPM will help the department chart learning paths for a variety of relevant skills, so the number of education activities and classes will ebb and flow over time.

But DoD is trying to streamline similar training courses that the services and other DoD entities all offer. The department, for example, has 500 separate instances of an Excel training course.

It’s all part of DoD’s broader effort to streamline and look for cost savings among its 1,800 business systems, Hershman said.

DoD spends nearly 340 million labor hours a year on learning activities, she said. Those hours are consumed, in part, as roughly 40,000 defense civilian employees annually change positions throughout the department and must take new training courses as part of the move.

To get started, OPM will help DoD develop a common core curriculum and course catalog for common skill competencies, which the two agencies said will help employees better chart a wide variety of career paths.

“Competencies are universal across the enterprise,” William Peratino, director of USALearning, said. “Then we can create that common course catalog and have the content cross-correlated to competencies. When people are doing a job search, whether they want to progress in their current job or if they want to transition somewhere else, they can then assess their competency level where they are, get information on what they need to do to achieve the next level of proficiency through those competencies and then be competitive for the next job opportunity.”

DoD has named Kelly Sims as the department’s new program manager for category management for training and education, and leader of this partnership.

By moving to OPM’s USALearning platform, DoD estimates it will save $22 million a year in training and education acquisition costs, and $122 million over five years.

OPM and DoD say the partnership will also streamline the training experience for DoD employees.

Employees often end up taking the same or a similar training course multiple times, because the credit they earned for one course may not apply if they move to another job within the same agency.

“What we’re trying to do more of across government is enable people to move often,” Weichert said.  “[We’re trying] to provide opportunities around reskilling and to make careers and skills more transferable to be responsive and resilient to mission.”

DoD and OPM also see an opportunity to better track employees’ progress as they complete certifications and acquire skills badges, Weichert added.

As part of the partnership, OPM will also operate and maintain a DoD-wide common learning record repository.

“If you don’t have the ability to track the data and the progress across all the places that they’re going to work, you’re not actually really enabling them to take that training into a better opportunity,” she said.

In addition, the Defense Department has an Advanced Distributed Learning Initiative, which explores and reviews emerging technology. Peratino said DoD and other agencies will be able to identify new learning and training technology and use USALearning’s acquisition platform to more quickly purchase those solutions.

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