Acquisition Program Is Talent Pipeline to Prepare Students for DOD Civilian Careers

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The new Defense Civilian Training Corps pilot program provides 100% tuition scholarships and monthly stipends through an ROTC-like development program preparing undergraduate students for a direct path into the Defense Department's acquisition-related civilian careers.  

The program incorporates a defense-focused, active-learning curriculum along with project-based summer internships at DOD organizations.  

Ninety undergraduate students are participating in the program's first year at four universities – the University of Arizona, North Carolina A&T University, Purdue University and Virginia Tech. 

William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment, extended a virtual welcome to the inaugural Defense Civilian Training Corps class yesterday. 

"The initiative [is] so important [to the] Department of Defense and to the country. And of course, you, the students, are the key piece of the puzzle. It's all about you," he said. 

Mark E. Krzysko, DOD's principal deputy director of enterprise information for acquisition data and analytics, also spoke to the students. 

"The department has huge demands for creating a future workforce. DCTC is a key component of that. For the scholars in the audience, this program is designed to be a comprehensive challenge and design to connect you with the department and future employment and future careers within the department. You've been selected because of your talents, skills and desire for public service supporting national security. This program is designed to build those critical skills necessary for you to make a difference and have a successful career in the department," Krzysko said. 

Garry Shafovaloff, director of DCTC's pilot, said the program reflects the department's commitment to developing a new generation of highly talented professionals who are committed to public service and who will perform critical roles throughout the department. This is not just about talent management, but unleashing talent. 

The classes are designed to engage students with today's acquisition professionals, working together with mentoring, to practice innovating and problem solving on today's real DOD challenges. They get to experience making a difference and being part of the national security team, he said.  

This program provides a new public service pathway for many to become DOD civilian professionals and makes it possible for the students to serve and use their talents to further national security, Shafovaloff added. 

"The magic of the program is in the design, giving students the opportunity for public service and to be part of something bigger than themselves. That's exciting," he said. 

Shafovaloff said he hopes the pilot will become a model and inspire similar efforts in other areas of the department and U.S. government. 

A primary reason this program is so important is the need for a ready and right-skilled DOD civilian workforce that supports and equips our military to succeed in the pacing challenges of China and achieving our National Defense Strategy. China is harnessing its talent for critical technologies that could have military applications. "Our nation needs to also be proactive and aggressive in preparing the workforce of the future," he said. 

The DCTC's intensive teamwork and hands-on, problem-solving design will generate innovative solutions that help students experience being national security professionals today. Their solutions could also spark private sector applications workforce that would also benefit the U.S. economy, he added. 

The program design includes having a mix of students from diverse technical and nontechnical majors, mirroring DOD's multifunctional teams that work together with industry to transition technologies into fielded deterrence capabilities, he said.  

The initial pilot program started with junior-level students last month, he said. Selected candidates not only have strong academic credentials, but they're also involved in clubs and organizations that are public service oriented. Of 360 applicants, 90 were selected. The selectees represent 28 technical majors and 14 nontechnical majors. 

Students continue their studies in their majors and take two credit hours of additional coursework for the Defense Civilian Training Corps, he said. The program design, as part of the integrated curriculum, includes high engagement with DOD organizations professionals. DOD organizations propose student projects and commit to mentoring and hosting project-based summer internships. The matching of projects with students and organizations includes a commitment by organizations to plan placement of the students upon successful completion of their degrees and the DCTC program. 

Matches are made by considering the students' talents and interests and the organizations' needs, he said. It's a two-way conversation. 

The program was authorized in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Act. Congress, through the fiscal year 2023 NDAA, modified the direction to cite the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and sustainment as responsible for implementation with the help of the Acquisition Innovation Research Center. Congress saw the opportunity to create a strong partnership between the department and academia to address the need to strengthen and build DOD talent pipeline for critical skills needed in the acquisition workforce, said Karen Thornton, a research fellow with the Acquisition Innovation Research Center. There, she's on the leadership team implementing the Defense Civilian Training Corps pilot. 

The acquisition mission in the department is broad, she said, ranging all the way from the requirements process, testing and evaluation, logistics, program management to contracting and sustainment. 

"Success of the acquisition teams depends on strong communication, listening skills, compassion, respect and collaboration from the engineers to the logisticians to the contracting officers. We want to make sure that students are building those skills," she said. 

Each of the universities in the program has Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs. 

"One of the things we want them to do is participate in some activities with ROTC cadets, so our DCTC scholars become more familiar with the military culture," she said. 

"We look to our ROTC colleagues to demonstrate how they integrate leadership and resilience training into their program," she said. 

Thornton noted that the pilot program also works to help students get security clearances, which will be necessary for the work they'll be doing. "The security clearance timeline can be a barrier to attracting top talent into public service, and we're make sure we address that," she said.