Contract specialist hones market research skills in acquisition program

By Dianne Ryder DLA Public Affairs

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Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series highlighting DLA participants in the Training with Industry Program, which provides Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act-certified employees an opportunity to gain career-broadening experience while working in an industry environment.

Defense Logistics Agency Aviation Lead Contract Specialist Nicole Lawrence loves a challenge. When she had a chance to engage with a private company through the Defense Department’s Training with Industry Program, she knew she had to apply.

The program provides a professional development opportunity to help Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act-certified military and civilian employees improve managerial skills.

Lawrence began her DLA career as a college student in 2010, part of the agency’s Student Career Experience Program. She’s been working in contracting ever since, and admits she was getting burned out. When she received an email from her division chief in March about the TWI opportunity, she leapt at the chance to take on the 6-month detail.

Once selected for the TWI program, Lawrence had to choose between United Parcel Service in Georgia, or IBM in Oregon.

“I have a 3-year-old, so I didn’t want to go all the way to Oregon where I couldn’t get to see her or she couldn’t get out to see me,” she said.

In June, she was assigned to UPS’s Supply Chain Solutions, Inc. in Alpharetta, Georgia.

“I came down here in the blind. The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of being here is the culture difference. Whereas in the government you know who you report to, it’s very fluid here,” she said, adding it’s often difficult to determine UPS’s hierarchy and daily workload goals.

Defining work priorities without specific metrics has been challenging, too, since her overall goal is an initiative to raise $4.4 million through solutions over the next 12 months, and she’s only at UPS for six months.

Lawrence works with UPS’s customer solutions group, which acts as the company’s supply chain consulting arm. Her job is to help UPS remain competitive in consulting by tracking customer solutions and performing market research to determine UPS’s biggest competitors.

“They go to their customers and clients to help them revamp warehouses, redesign packaging – all different aspects of shipping. I’m working with their revenue management group in consulting to update pricing for their consulting services and get a better understanding of their marketing evaluations,” Lawrence said. “I pull and analyze the data collected from the consulting sales team and provide a summarized report to management. This has given me insight into cost analysis reporting, but also how a company navigates staying accountable to their shareholders while remaining competitive in a market.”

Lawrence said the level and type of market research she does at UPS is completely outside her wheelhouse.

“I wanted to see what else I could learn that was interesting,” she said. “Here I’m getting to see the backside of how you ensure the services you offer make money, which is interesting because getting people to cooperate with you when you need information is not easy.”

Working in sales is also not easy, Lawrence said. As in any workplace, the UPS sales team became set in their ways and reluctant to change how they do their jobs.

“You’re telling them they have to charge the customer more when they’re having a hard enough time getting a customer to buy something anyway,” she said. “The main challenge has been getting people to follow a process and follow it correctly.”

“Another benefit I’ve received from this project has been learning how to review the data to see where improvements are needed that can be measured on a regular basis,” she said. “Learning to take that data and collaborate very closely with my manager to brainstorm solutions that can be pitched to upper management has helped me to better present myself and my thought process in a clear and concise manner.”

The opportunity has also improved Lawrence’s use and expertise with spreadsheets.

“We manage a lot of our strategic contracts via spreadsheet, especially the cost analysis part of it,” she said. “Managing a spreadsheet for 150 solutions that span three different divisions, I’ve gotten so much hands-on experience.”

Lawrence said she highly recommends the TWI Program to other acquisition workforce members.

“It gets you outside the government mindset. The government has a very strict way of doing things and it’s very unique,” she said. “Once you see the private side and how they operate, you can see where we have some pitfalls and where we have some bonuses in how we do things.”

Lawrence hopes the program will be eventually be expanded to longer than six months. She looks forward to TWI Program funding allowing for nine- to 12-month details.