It all began three years ago when Veterans from across the country began a journey with the VA Acquisition Academy (VAAA) Acquisition Internship School’s Warriors to Workforce (W2W) Program. Twenty-six Veterans decided to continue their service to America as federal acquisition professionals. Between them, they have seven Purple Hearts, two Bronze Stars, more than 190 years of military experience and represent three branches of service.
“The program offers new hope and a career path for our wounded warriors and provides a critical source of talent for the federal workforce,” said VAAA Chancellor Melissa Starinsky. “It’s a win-win.”
The W2W Program was created to provide returning wounded Veterans with an opportunity to apply military experiences and skills to a new professional field. Thursday, Nov. 6, marked the culmination of their journey as they graduated and transitioned to full-time federal contract specialists.
In their first year, the interns earned 30 college credits in business courses averaging a 3.7 GPA with 75 percent achieving dean’s list status and 65 percent projected to earn a bachelor’s degree by the end of this year. With graduation, the participants completed the education necessary to achieve a Federal Acquisition Certification in Contracting (FAC-C) Level II, which is recognized throughout the federal sector as evidence of solid education in the career field. Final placement commitments were secured for all of the graduates working in contracting offices across the country.
“It wasn’t a tough sell,” remarked VAAA Acquisition Internship School Program Manager Stephanie Belella, who worked to secure final placement. “In fact, VA Network Contracting Office 4, with locations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has been an ardent supporter of the program and has hired a third of the graduates. We are thankful for their support.”
Among the graduates was an intern from the General Services Administration (GSA) which has demonstrated a long-standing commitment to W2W program. The GSA participant will work as a contract specialist in GSA. Other partner agencies include the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense, who are sponsoring participants in other active W2W cohorts.
“‘I wish we could clone them,’ is a common remark from supervisors in the field offices where they complete their on-the-job training,” said VAAA Warriors to Workforce Program Manager David Sella, who oversees year-one of the program. “Many of these Veterans had their military careers cut short by injury and didn’t know what the future held.”
“I have accomplished things I never thought I’d do,” said W2W graduate Bryan Burgee. “This program started a new chapter in my life. I’m proud to be a Veteran and indirectly support my fellow Veterans through contracting.”
Through three active cohorts, VA has enrolled 80 W2W participants into the program with an impressive 96 percent retention rate, demonstrating the program’s credibility and success in creating a model that helps Veterans transition back to civilian life. A fourth cohort is scheduled to start in February 2015. The undertaking supports VAAA’s mission of recapitalizing the acquisition workforce and the VA’s commitment to Veteran employment. Most importantly, it supports Veterans by providing them a career path that uses the skills these brave Veterans bring to the workforce, such as teamwork and problem solving.
The award-winning intern program, launched in 2011, leverages GI Bill benefits to meet mandatory college education requirements and provides extensive technical and business skills training, advanced biofeedback work, mission service, and on-the-job rotations. It utilizes a cohort model that provides a built-in support system and network that mirrors the team environment and camaraderie Veterans experience in the military, easing the transition to the civilian professional world.
With sponsorship from VA’s Office of Information and Technology, the program was expanded in 2013 for Veterans interested in a career in program management. Similar to the original program, the W2W the Program Management curriculum includes IT and foundation program management training. The first class will graduate in 2016.
Over the past decade, the government’s contracting force has shrunk, although the volume and complexity of contracts has increased. VA opened its Acquisition Academy in Frederick, Md., in September 2008 in response to the growing shortage of contracting professionals, both for VA and other federal agencies.
Ideal candidates are military Veterans who have service-connected disabilities and little to no post-high school education (e.g., no bachelor’s degree). Veterans interested in applying to the W2W Program can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 240-215-0561. Veterans with a bachelor’s or other advanced degree, can apply for the VAAA’s two-year Acquisition Intern Program. For more information on the two-year program, email email@example.com or call 240-215-0561.
More information about VA’s Acquisition Academy is available on the Internet at www.acquisitionacademy.va.gov.
Laura Edwards is the public affairs specialist for the VA Acquisition Academy. Prior to coming to VAAA, she served as deputy director of the VA Washington Regional Office of Public Affairs providing advice and counsel to facility public affairs officers in a six-state region. Edwards has also served as a public affairs specialist in VA’s Office of Public Affairs Field Operations Service. She began her VA career the National Cemetery Administration’s Office of Public and Consumer Affairs.