Institute for Systems Engineering Research takes on new task: talent management

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center
Published May 6, 2021
Staff Sgt. Russell Gaskin, U.S. Army Prime Power School instructor, reviews an electrical panel during the Prime Power Capstone Training Exercise at the Contingency Basing Integration Training and Evaluation Center (CBITEC) in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Aug. 11, 2020. Prime Power School students are tested at the CBITEC on the knowledge, skills and abilities they gained over the year-long course to become prime power specialists. CBITEC is a U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory facility that supports the operational energy continuum and safely trains the warfighter to tackle the nation’s power challenges.

Staff Sgt. Russell Gaskin, U.S. Army Prime Power School instructor, reviews an electrical panel during the Prime Power Capstone Training Exercise at the Contingency Basing Integration Training and Evaluation Center (CBITEC) in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Aug. 11, 2020. Prime Power School students are tested at the CBITEC on the knowledge, skills and abilities they gained over the year-long course to become prime power specialists. CBITEC is a U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory facility that supports the operational energy continuum and safely trains the warfighter to tackle the nation’s power challenges.

The Institute for Systems Engineering Research (ISER) team at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is applying their expertise to an unexpected field: talent management. The need for a hard-to-find skillset to fill the role of prime power production specialist — which is a high-demand position involving electrical assessments, quality assurance and control and medium-voltage electrical power production and distribution ― has driven the Army to seek new methods to help fill and retain these vital roles.

“Although this is a new topic, it aligns well with the tools and processes ISER team members have been employing for years,” said ISER Director Dr. Simon Goerger. “During a recent in-progress review on another ISER civil works-related effort, members of the Office of the Chief Engineers saw a prototype decision tool the ISER had been developing and reached out to the team to see if we could assist them with a resource management problem.”

Utilizing their background in systems engineering, operations research, modeling, risk reduction, resilience, decision analytics, information visualization and more, the ISER team began to draft a study plan. Dr. John Richards, a senior operations research analyst with ISER,  identified the initial requirements and develop a statement of work. Funding was secured in early January 2021, and the team began engaging key stakeholders from the Office of the Chief Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power) soon after.

The Army must recruit, train, manage and retain prime power production specialists to meet the demands of the 249th Engineer Battalion (Prime Power), Space and Missile Command and other operational missions. Prime power specialists are currently recruited from Soldiers already serving and not from those brought in on first-term enlistments.

“The training pipeline is time and resource intensive, while opportunities in the commercial sector for trained prime power production specialists are lucrative, which creates significant challenges for retention,” said Richards. “This challenging recruiting and retention environment is further complicated by the increasing demand for the prime power specialty across the Army. Recent approval of an increase in the number of prime power specialists, as well as their allocation to the Space and Missile Defense Command, has caused a significant growth in operational requirements that must be addressed.”

The goal of this project is to complete a holistic assessment of the “as-is” state of the system that generates, utilizes and incentivizes the recruiting, training and retention of this low-density specialty in order to identify factors contributing to shortfalls in capacity and better understand the risk associated with deficits in satisfying mission demands. The results of this analysis will inform a set of recommendations for the “to-be” state of the talent management program associated with this high-demand, low-density specialty area with a goal of fulfilling at least 95 % of all operational requirements.

“ERDC’s Information Technology Laboratory is assisting with DoD mission success by helping Army leadership understand the magnitude and details of managing this high-demand, low-density specialty that appears to be increasing in demand over the next few years,” said Goerger. “The demand for power to support computer systems, deployed forces or humanitarian relief efforts continues to place excessive demands on this and other Corps of Engineers assets. Helping to identify effective means of recruiting, training, deploying and retaining these personnel will ensure the Corps can continue to meet these demands.”

Looking ahead, the ISER team will leverage its expertise in stakeholder analysis and data analytics, as well as previous experience in conducting talent management studies, to examine the problem of employment and utilization down to the individual Soldier and to define and describe the operational risk of utilization shortfalls across the prime power production specialist field. The team will also conduct an assessment of the entire system and its components to determine how and where to make the most impact for talent management.

“The project will address several questions for analysis,” said Richards. “We’ll look at where the demand exists and how that matches existing capacity and what the highest priority demands are and the consequences of not filling those demands. We’ll also examine where challenges exist in the recruiting, training and retention of this specialty area and what opportunities are available to make this process more effective. The ISER is well positioned to support the Army in this effort.”


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