The Anniston Army Depot (ANAD), located in northeast Alabama, is a massive maintenance facility for all of the U.S. Army’s combat vehicles—with the exception of the MRLS (Multiple Rocket Launcher System) and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle—as well as certain artillery systems and small-caliber arms. To keep all of the weapons platforms ANAD is responsible for in operation, the organization employs a veritable army of its own, comprised of more than 4,000 employees and approximately 2,000 outside contractors, said Gilda Knighton, deputy director of mission plans and operations.
“We’re actually like a small city inside the fences here,” she said. “We’re basically self-contained. We have all the resources that it takes to keep up the infrastructure, perform the mission and provide support for that mission.”
With some 2,600 direct labor personnel, the ANAD workforce is primarily composed of blue-collar type workers based on the shop floor, but the organization also employs substantial numbers of information management, risk management, security, safety and environmental specialists. Learning and development programs are central to the efficacy of such a large and sundry staff. “It’s a critical piece of our overall success as an organization,” said Thyris Banks, ANAD’s chief depot operations officer. “I think that’s emphasized from the commander on down to all levels of leadership here at the depot, because we know that a well-trained employee will be a successful employee.”
These efforts have become especially important in light of the Army’s combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Knighton said. “Just four years ago, our average (employee) age was 48 with 25 or 26 years of service. We have dropped that down drastically due to workload surge associated with our efforts in Southwest Asia. The depot workload has more than doubled over the last three fiscal years. We have been in a continual hiring mode, and we can’t hire fast enough to satisfy our workload. With all of the new and younger employees coming in, it is essential that we address the training requirements to bring them up to the desired level as quickly as possible.”
One notable example of ANAD’s learning offerings for new hires is eight hours of mandated safety training at the start of employment, said Mary Mullen, the programs training manager at the ANAD operations office, who also manages the student career experience program. It was introduced to a group of 30 incoming high school graduates who had been recruited through the organization’s secondary and post-secondary co-op programs. Around the same time, 300 people were hired “off the street” who did not go through that training. According to Mullen, the co-op program participants who had received safety instruction lost only 3 percent of their time on the job due to accidents during a fixed time span after the course, while the 300 new hires averaged about 30 percent. “That was a definite affirmative that our safety training had accomplished what we hoped it would,” she said.
The need to bring in sizeable amounts of employees rapidly has entailed usage of a broad array of educational methods and modalities, ranging from formal, enterprise-wide e-learning courses around issues such as sexual harassment and handling of hazardous materials to one-on-one “cross training” on the shop floor involving pairs of veteran employees and novices. “We use just about every type of training that is available out there,” Mullen said. “We focus mainly on the cost-effectiveness of training, keeping the people on the job as much as possible—because production is what keeps us all in a job here—and addressing training needs that will satisfactorily give us the outcomes we’re looking for.”
ANAD also has designed and developed its own Web-based learning management system to help individual employees achieve organizational objectives and realize their own career aspirations, Knighton said. This tool maps out a training path for every occupation by role and wage grade, targeting capabilities specific to each worker’s goals. “We look at training in two halves: We look at mandatory, required training, which is directed at every employee at Anniston Army Depot, and then we look at each individual,” Knighton said. “We continually assess our workforce across the board for the skills training and professional development training they need. If I were a GS-7—a secretary—and I had my goal set to be a production controller—a GS-9—then I could go to this overall training plan and see what training would be required to be qualified for and be successful in that job.”
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org