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News | Jan. 12, 2021

Acquisition workforce members continue education during pandemic

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

For thousands of Defense Logistics Agency acquisition-coded employees, training is a critical part of job performance and Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act certification. When the coronavirus became a global pandemic, DLA Training Center officials had to act fast so acquisition professionals wouldn’t fall behind in their educational goals.

DLA Training Chief of Acquisition and Contracting LaMarr Daniels partners with DLA’s Workforce Development Division as well as the Defense Acquisition University to help members of the acquisition workforce meet requirements for basic, intermediate and advanced training. When COVID-19 restrictions began in March, students pursuing DAWIA certification wondered if they could complete their classes on time.

“The pandemic affected a widespread population of contracting folks because everyone is basically on the clock,” Daniels said, adding that if students cannot complete the training, it can result in a work stoppage. “Whether it’s continual learning or for certification, part of their job is to achieve [required training] within a 24-month timeframe.”

With the threat of delinquency looming for students due to initial class cancellations, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord signed a memorandum April 1 granting a 12-month extension to allow those working toward DAWIA certification 36 months vice 24. Daniels said the grace period allowed employees to focus on the mission.

“It gave them a way to have interim resident courses with a virtual instructor and allowed them to continue business as usual with the peace of mind that they’ll still be able to receive credit,” he said.

The Defense Department’s priority has always been the protection of the acquisition workforce, Daniels said, but COVID-19 forced DLA Training and DAU to reevaluate course offerings for the remainder of fiscal 2020 and into fiscal 2021. Because of travel restrictions and social distancing guidance, DLA Training and DAU had to convert most live instructor-led training through the end of 2020 to virtual instructor-led training and adjust pricing for courses. Acquisition workforce members were instructed not to cancel any registered training, and DLA Training and DAU contacted students before the course offering with a course status.

“Some courses were initially rescheduled to allow time for conversion, but we tried to avoid outright cancellations,” Daniels said, adding that about 45-60 days allowed DLA Training officials to convert and roll out courses with supplemental guides and electronic presentations were made accessible to individuals with disabilities in accordance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

Daniels said the conversion took some time, but most courses were transferred to virtual delivery within a couple of months. Students can register for classes through DLA Training and DAU and track progress via the CAC-enabled Defense Acquisition Talent Management System, a one-stop shop for acquisition professionals to join acquisition networks, review course requirements and communicate with their supervisors regarding continuous learning opportunities.

“We’ve been using DATMS since 2017, but it became the platform where everything migrated to in 2018, the hub of everything a contracting professional would need,” Daniels said. “They can see how much time they have to complete any type of continuous learning and keep pace with where they are in their careers.”

Virtual acquisition classes are a viable option for future instruction because they ensure mission readiness and help the agency avoid work stoppages, Daniels said.

“It’ll always depend on whatever the mission requires, so if someone wants face-to-face training after the pandemic is over, I think that will certainly be an option,” he said. “But we haven’t seen any decline in learning retention or knowledge transfer with virtual instruction.”

The framework for DAWIA certification will change in 2021 with a focus on just-in-time training versus historical career development plans. Just-in-time training will enable students to take courses relevant to the tasks they perform at each stage of contracting and will increase the likelihood of knowledge retention. It will also help acquisition workforce members avoid taking classes they don’t yet need, Daniels said.

“Just-in-time training will make the workforce more effective and efficient so they’re not just taking training for the sake of taking training, but taking it for preparation of their individual workload,” Daniels said.

Enterprisewide, only 1% of acquisition professionals have had to extend their instruction beyond the 24-month period.

“Although there were false starts, setbacks and kinks to work out, things are smoothing out more,” Daniels said. “Students are getting more comfortable and they know exactly what they need to do. We’ve been able to mirror the actual classroom instruction and give them what they need to accomplish their goals.”

Acquisition employees can get more information about DAWIA certification from the Federal Acquisition Institute and DAU.