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News | April 4, 2019

Specialized training program helps new employees thrive in the Subsistence supply chain

By Alexandria Brimage-Gray

Starting a new career can be both stressful and exciting at the same time.

As a former intern in the now, Defense Logistics Agency Pathways to Career Excellence program, these are feelings that Bill Blake knows very well.  So he decided that he would do something to help ease the transition for those participants who came after him.

It was almost 15 years ago, when Blake, a senior tailored vendor logistics specialist in the Subsistence supply chain, left his home in Texas and relocated to Philadelphia after being accepted into the corporate intern program at DLA Troop Support.

“My dad was in the Air Force and he served here in the Medical supply chain,” Blake said. “He informed me about the corporate intern program, while visiting one summer.  I put in an application and was accepted into the program, where I have been working on different teams that support [regions outside of the continental U.S.].”

Blake has spent his entire career in Subsistence as a TVLS or customer account representative, a role he describes as an arm to the contracting team.

“We do not have anything to do with making the contracts,” he said. “We try to assist our customers in getting the items that they need at the right place and right time, as well as balancing the requirements of our suppliers. We do cataloging, billing, manage payments, set up customer profiles and configure ordering profiles to ensure that they get the right menu items they want.”

Although TVLS PaCERs receive formal training throughout the two-year training program, Blake considers Subsistence a more specialized commodity than the other four supply chains at Troop Support.

“Subsistence, as a commodity in general, has its own unique challenges but [supporting customers located outside the continental United States] provides additional challenges as well. You sometimes have customs and border issues, [European Union] regulations and other things to deal with,” he said.  “A lot of the training that [new employees] take through [the Defense Acquisition University] is geared around other commodities.”

Robin Whaley, the OCONUS customer relationship specialist supervisor agrees that more detailed training is required.

 “A lot of the training that the PaCERs receive deals with parts and not necessarily Subsistence,” Whaley, said.  “Subsistence is more involved. We deal with customers 24 hours a day. Our orders are every other day, where in some of the other commodities, they may place an order once a year or once a month but we are placing hundreds or thousands of orders per day.”

Whaley tasked Blake to do more to assist newcomers in the organization. “As a supervisor, I know the skill [and] the focus of what’s needed in a TVLS,” she said. “So, I gave Bill an outline of the things that I wanted him to train [PaCERs] on, and from there he trained them based on his day-to-day work [requirements].”

When a new TVLS joins his team, Blake has a goal to ensure that every PaCER is trained and ready to handle their own accounts by the year and half mark of the two year program.

“Since I went through the intern program myself, I kind of knew what helped in the training, [including] where to start, and when to start letting someone do stuff on their own,” Blake said. “While they’re awaiting systems accesses and permission, I allow them to monitor what I do every day. Some stuff is beyond their level but they get to experience that your job is not always just focusing on one thing but sometimes you have to breakoff what you are doing to tackle some other issues that are more pressing.”

Having trained several employees over the years, Blake says the most important lesson that he has learned is that people learn in different ways.

“I try to use a crawl, walk and run philosophy of training them,” he said. “I start by providing them the basic building blocks.”

After a few days, Blake allows the new employees an opportunity to sit in his seat.

“I start to observe what they are doing and be right there in case they get stuck,”
he said. “When they get stuck, I like to let them problem solve and reason it out.”

With this method, Blake says he has noticed that his trainees tend to pick up things rather quickly.

Nereida Chaffin, a retired Marine food service specialist was Blake’s first full-time trainee after arriving at DLA in October 2016 as a PaCER.

“I was very nervous and scared during the first year because I had never been on the civilian side, just the military side and it seemed like a lot,” Chaffin said.

Chaffin credits Blake for helping her get through the fear and nervousness of the first year.

“He took the time to teach me each program individually, instead of trying to bombard me with everything at the same time,” she said. “After the first year, I felt more comfortable and more at ease about doing things.

Chaffin described Blake as a good guy who freely shares his knowledge and experience.

“He tries to give you all of the information that you need,” Chaffin said.

During her time in Philadelphia, Chaffin developed working relationships with her Troop Support Europe and Africa counterparts, as well as the vendors and customers within the region, ultimately landing her a job offer in Germany at the end of the PaCER program.

Being in her new role for only a few months, Chaffin has already had an opportunity to pay it forward by sharing her training and knowledge with a new colleague.

“I have someone here who has been here a little longer than me but I have more of the knowledge base so I have had the opportunity to help her get through her training and train her up on a lot of other stuff,” she said. “I am definitely willing to share the information because the more that everybody knows the better it helps DLA, because they are going to make better choices.”