WRP gives supervisors pool of qualified candidates to fill workforce gaps, build stronger teams

By Beth Reece

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Two years ago, Paul Jensen’s staff was bare-bones and struggling to keep up with increasing demands from its primary customer, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command.

“Our workload buying missile and aviation parts has greatly increased over the last two and a half years because AMCOM really likes what we do and has been throwing a lot of additional work our direction. A few people were actually pulled off my team so they could be buyers on other teams, so I had to look for other resources to keep up with the demands,” said Jenson, chief of acquisition support for Defense Logistics Agency Aviation in Huntsville, Alabama.

He discovered the Workforce Recruitment Program, an annual recruitment and referral program that places prescreened college students and recent graduates with disabilities in 14-week internships at federal agencies. Figuring he’d luck out if he got two interns, Jensen asked for four.

“Surprisingly, I got all four of them. I went into it just needing some help but found people who were willing to learn and work hard. Their performance was so outstanding that I’ve tried to use them to fill permanent positions as they’ve come open,” he said.

Jensen is among a growing number of DLA supervisors who’ve come to appreciate the WRP. Of the 1,010 WRP interns the agency has temporarily hired since 1995, 128 have been permanently hired through the noncompetitive “Schedule A” authority or the agency’s Pathways to Career Excellence Program, a two-year program designed to train entry-level personnel for subsequent advancement.

Michael “Cody” Romine is the latest of four WRP interns Jensen has hired into permanent positions since 2016. After witnessing Romine’s proficiency in administrative tasks, Jensen began to rely on him to locate paper files that other employees had trouble finding.

“We transitioned from paper contract files to paperless files April 1, 2016, but we have a lot of old contracts that are still active in paper files in one big file cabinet. Every now and then, a file gets misplaced, and it can take days to find it. Once, I asked Cody to look and he found the file within two hours,” Jensen said. “From that point on, whenever I needed a paper contract file I would ask Cody to get it, and he always had it in his hands almost immediately.”

Jensen was also impressed with Romine’s tendency to ask for more work rather than wait for it to be assigned, so when his internship ended, he helped hire Romine as a permanent secretary in the local commander’s office. This month, he was offered and accepted a GS-7/9/11 developmental position as a contract specialist on Jensen’s team.

“He’s exactly the kind of person I want working for me permanently,” Jensen said.

Although WRP interns are on DLA rolls, their salaries are paid for by the Department of Defense. Slots are portioned out to federal agencies through the Department of Defense’s Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity. The agency’s participation has almost tripled since 2015, when it had just 38 slots. This year it has 100.

The WRP is one of the tools DLA uses to attract and retain people with disabilities. It outweighs typical hiring processes because supervisors get the chance to assess candidates’ capabilities with no strings attached, said Nancy Anthony, DLA’s WRP program manager.

“Those 14 weeks are actually a free performance period that can help supervisors decide whether they want to consider that person for permanent positions as they come open,” she said. “It’s better to hire someone whose work you can see through the WRP than someone from USAJOBS where you’re only going by a person’s resume and interview.”

Hiring a WRP intern is a quick process that takes two to four weeks and minimal effort from supervisors, said DLA Human Resources Deputy Director Billie Keeler, who has become a personal advocate for WRP participants after working alongside several of them.

“Like with other hiring processes, you get to say up front what skills you need a person to have and still do interviews to see whether the students really have all of what you’re looking for. But these folks have already been screened, so bringing them on board can be a much quicker process,” he said.

It begins when supervisors notify the appropriate WRP coordinator at DLA Headquarters or major subordinate commands that they’re interested in hiring through the WRP. Coordinators then generate a list of candidates from WRP’s database of over 2,000 students and recent graduates in career paths such as management, information technology and accounting.

“WRP coordinators are here to make things as smooth and easy as possible, but once we give supervisors the list, it’s really up to them how quickly things go from there as they conduct interviews and select a candidate,” Anthony said.

The WRP can help the agency meet its goal of building a diverse workforce by including people with disabilities, Keeler added.

“I’m a big sports fan, and one of the things I like about sports is the team aspect of it. I believe the most successful teams have people with different backgrounds, skills and experiences that all complement each other. It works the same way with organizations like DLA,” he said.

The same tenacity and determination people with disabilities use to overcome physical adversity can also be applied in the workplace, Keeler continued.

“These are generally people who’ve proven they can handle challenges and stressful situations. They can apply those same life skills to the job in a way someone else might not be able to,” he said.

Dedication and willingness to work hard were among the strengths Jensen recognized in people with disabilities.

“I have found that WRP students are actually more willing to work than some of the other people you might find on the street looking for a job. Maybe it’s because they have a disability and feel like they have to prove themselves, but I’ve just been ecstatic with the success I’ve had with them,” he said.

Anthony emphasized the program’s impact on interns’ careers.

“It’s about giving these students and recent graduates an opportunity to gain work experience. That’s a big deal, because sometimes we’re the first organization to give that to them,” she said.

In addition to filling gaps in staffing, the WRP also helps supervisors learn to become stronger leaders as they manage a more diverse workforce. It even supports the agency’s focus on people and culture.

“We encourage different perspectives and get better innovation by bringing in people with disabilities. Their contributions make DLA a better place, and we’ve had many people come in through the WRP and rise through the ranks and stay with us for many years,” she added.

Managers and supervisors at DLA Aviation can learn more about the WRP during information sessions scheduled for Feb. 22 and April 8 and at Disposition Services Feb. 28.  

A video about the DLA WRP is available here.

For more information, contact WRP@dla.mil.