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Professional credentialing at the unit level: 3d Infantry Division shows one way for army engineers to succeed.

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Developing programs for professional credentialing and contracting qualification is not difficult. Over the last 3 years, the 3d Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Georgia, successfully supported the efforts of 37 Soldiers who attained professional credentialing. This article describes the way the division engineer section helped those Soldiers earn professional credentials, most notably the project management professional (PMP) certificate, professional engineer (PE) licensure, and contracting officer representative (COR) qualification. Despite a new emphasis on professional certification, the Army has not developed a standardized program to attain various professional credentials. Subsequently, funds are not yet available to defray the costs of study materials, preparation courses, and examinations. As a result, most Soldiers who pursue credentials do so on their own time and at their own expense.

Soldiers with PMPs and PEs provide value to the Army, but deciding between pursuing the PMP or PE credential is challenging. The PMP certificate is sought for several reasons. It does not require a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics degree, which makes it available to a larger population. The PMP examination can be scheduled yearround at approved testing centers, the PMP credential is not state-specific, and the credential is internationally recognized. Also, the availability of the PMP examination allows Soldiers to schedule it at a convenient time. In comparison, the PE credential requires a degree in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics; the examination is only available twice yearly; the certification is state-specific; and the certification is not always internationally recognized. Many PEs are also PMPs.

PMP Preparation

Finding time to study and prepare for the PMP examination while assigned to a deployable unit can be a challenge. The 3d Infantry Division engineer cell implemented a method to identify and assist Soldiers who were interested in earning the credential. A series of information sessions was held to gauge interest and determine who was eligible to sit for the examination. Study groups were held over a period of several months, culminating in a PMP "boot camp" shortly before Soldiers sat for the examination.

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The approach leveraged periods of low operational tempo by holding information sessions during the half-day holiday schedule in December. Subsequently, study sessions were conducted on Mondays and Fridays during lunch breaks. The boot camp was held during a week with minimal training schedule conflicts. In 2015, boot camp took place the week before Memorial Day. A certified PMP facilitated each study session. Three or four certified PMPs are usually necessary to ensure that they can juggle their day job commitments with the study sessions. New material was covered on Fridays, and Mondays served as reinforcing days, giving students two opportunities per week to study the material. Scheduling to make use of periods of low operational tempo and provide multiple opportunities for information and study sessions allowed Soldiers to successfully prepare for the examination despite the limited time available.

PE Preparation

Pursuing PE licensure is inherently challenging. The examination is usually offered only twice yearly and is specific to each discipline, such as civil, electrical, mechanical, and environmental engineering. Unlike the PMP examination, the PE licensure examination is administered differently from state to state. Many states require PE licensure applicants to work under a certified PE for approximately 4 years. The biggest challenge is that PE licensure requires that the applicant pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination before sitting for the PE examination. Unfortunately, a surprising number of Soldiers with engineering degrees do not take the FE examination after graduation, making them ineligible for the PE examination until they later pass the FE examination. Therefore, only two to three Soldiers apply for PE licensing every year. Scheduling information sessions, conducting preparation courses, and running study groups for a small population is difficult. Leaders can implement several measures to mitigate this challenge, including--

* Using available licensed PEs to lead information sessions. Directorates of public works and local U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) offices have PEs who can help.

* Leveraging relationships with USACE districts and professional organizations, such as the Society of American Military Engineers or the American Society of Civil Engineers. USACE offers Web-based PE preparation courses that are free to military engineers, and many professional organizations offer local study group opportunities and affordable preparation course options.

* Advertising the dates for the PE exams early. Dates can be publicized in training guidance, in post-wide messages, and through monthly engineer conference calls.

* Getting acquainted with officials at the state professional licensing board in your state. For example, the director of the Georgia Professional Licensing Board was invited to brief 3d Infantry Division engineers at a Society of American Military Engineers luncheon.

COR Certification

A third important credential is the COR certification, which was one of the credentials most sought after [by commanders and engineer leaders during combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Only a contracting officer can appoint a COR--and only after the potential COR has completed several training courses that can require several weeks of work. The 3d Infantry Division started a program that lets engineers complete the coursework to be ready on short notice for appointment as a COR. This program leverages free, Web-based classes and can be completed in about 50 hours. Candidates are allowed to complete online courses during duty hours, and they must take Defense Acquisition University ethics training annually to maintain certification. Although COR qualification requirements vary, the 3d Infantry Division solution greatly eases the certification process in most instances, allowing a cadre of COR-ready leaders to be developed rapidly.

Payment for Preparation Courses and Examinations

The typical price for a formal, 5-day PMP preparation course is $1,500 to $2,000. PE preparation courses are also expensive, and the fees do not cover travel costs. The 3d Infantry Division identified the following ways to reduce the cost of PMP and PE preparation courses:

* Leverage professional organization networks. The Society of American Military Engineers sponsors a Credentialing Awards Achievement Program that reimburses noncommissioned officers and members under age 40 who pass any one of 11 examinations, including the FE, PMP, and PE examinations. The Savannah, Georgia, chapter of the Society of American Military Engineers funds up to 75 percent of examination fees. Organizations at other installations offer similar incentives.

* Apply the GI Bill toward PMP or PE preparation courses or college classes that help prepare Soldiers for the examinations.

* Invest in the future by using unit training funds for a PMP preparation boot camp. The 3d Infantry Division worked with a company that provides PMP training to conduct classes. Costs are based on enrollment and can be reduced to about $700 per student.

* Establish a relationship with local USACE officials, who often conduct PMP boot camps at their district offices. While prices and terms vary, the camps are usually offered at a significant discount.

Ingredients to Success

There are three ingredients to success. A quality contribution by the study group cadre is necessary for a preparation program. Without the work of these volunteers, the program will not succeed. The program also requires a commitment from the participating Soldiers, who must devote their valuable personal time to prepare for the examinations. The final ingredient is leadership that is committed to developing professionals through improving the knowledge and technical capabilities of the force. Senior leader involvement will pay dividends for years to come.

Conclusion

The 3d Infantry Division engineer section found one way--but not necessarily the only way--to help Soldiers become certified as PMPs, PEs, and CORs. Deliberate scheduling that takes advantage of time and resources enables Soldiers to work on these credentials while reducing personal costs to them or maximizing the use of unit dollars. Experience proves that these efforts will be rewarded when conditions are set for Soldiers to receive the training they need to provide additional value to the Army.

Lieutenant Colonel Payne is the division engineer for 3d Infantry Division. He holds a master's degree in environmental engineering sciences from the University of Florida. He has been a certified project management professional since 2011.

Major Steele is an engineer operations officer for 3d Infantry Division. He holds a master of business administration degree from Utah State University. He became a project management professional in 2015.
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Author:Payne, R. Daren; Steele, Michael D.
Publication:Engineer: The Professional Bulletin for Army Engineers
Date:Jan 1, 2016
Words:1361
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