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Getting Your Career on the Right Track

Sara West, contract specialist at her desk using a computer.

Are you certain that you're in the right career field? Are you focusing on the right types of developmental activities? Do you want to further your career? Thanks to a new human resources initiative called career mapping, employees in the Defense Logistics Agency can now find the answers to these questions.

Designed with both employees and supervisors in mind, career mapping is a step-by-step guide that puts career information at employees' fingertips, said Pam Latker, chief of DLA Training's Career Management Division. DLA Training is part of DLA Human Resources Services, in Columbus, Ohio.

"Career mapping is designed to help employees and supervisors when they are developing their individual development plans," she said. "You have many different avenues, like formal developmental programs, rotational assignments and other informal avenues to develop yourself, and we've put them under an accessible tool where employees  see and use them and say, 'Hey, these are the kinds of opportunities, developmental activities or training that can help me grow.'"

Located on the DLA Human Resources website, detailed career maps are being posted for each of the DLA mission-critical occupational paths, such as contracting. Using the DLA career guides and career-specific detailed maps, employees can focus on the career path they are most interested in and the developmental activities associated with each. From there, employees can identify their individualized goals and plan out activities and opportunities that will help further their careers, Latker said.

"DLA employees have the opportunity to look at the map and see what kind of developmental activities are identified for the different levels," she said. "They see what competencies are connected to those levels, and they can strategically plan out activities that will help them grow within their organization."

The first step in career mapping is reviewing the career pyramid, consisting of four sides: education and training, job functions, leadership competencies, and technical competencies for each job series.

"The main side of the pyramid lists the job functions starting with the basic level, then the lower-mid, upper-mid and senior, and identifies functions that are associated with the specific career field such as contracting for a contract specialist," she said. "Then we mapped out the technical competencies and the education and training for each of the levels. Each is unique to that career field."

DLA Training collaborated with functional community managers and representatives from across the agency to develop career-specific products. Each career pyramid is based on the respective career field, Latker said, and each consolidates career information in a visually appealing, user-friendly format.

"It's a fairly new concept for DLA," she said. "Instead of employees surfing different websites for information or going into the HR website and looking at different career developmental activities such as the Enterprise Leader Development Program or the DLA Rotation Program, etc., they can see and use these easy–to-read maps that highlight activities and include links to websites.

"We also have checklists associated with each career map, and employees can use these to identify competencies and experiences that can assist in their growth," she added.

Latker said several people worked together to devise the four-sided pyramid approach.

"The career mapping approach and products we're using are unique to DLA," Latker said. "When we met with our initial focus groups, our goal was to design a three-dimensional approach so people could see that all of the sides of the pyramid are representative of their career, not just one individual side. All four sides of the pyramid are extremely important to their development and who they are as an employee."

Once employees identify a career goal, they can then move onto the career guide. The guide, the second step in the process, gives employees the background they need to connect to other DLA programs, widening the scope of available opportunities.

"We have a DLA Career Guide and specific career guides for each of the career fields we've mapped," Latker said. "The DLA Career Guide is designed for every DLA employee and contains career planning steps to assist employees thinking about where they would like to focus, whether it be today or tomorrow. The guide itself is only about 20 pages. Our goal was to design a user-friendly guide, not something so in-depth that employees would shy away from using the resource.

DLA career guides also contain links to important resources and developmental information such as the agency's Learning Management System and tuition assistance policy.

"It's very user-friendly and helps lay out a foundation so [employees] can lay out their goals," Latker said.

Once an employee has identified a career goal, the next step is to create an individual development plan. An IDP is the most important piece of an employee's development, Latker said.

"An IDP lays out your goals," she said. "It's also a formal plan between you and your supervisor that balances the needs of the organization while focusing on your developmental growth. It gives you a foundation around what you want to do for the future. Anybody can say, 'I know what I want to do,' but you need to put that down in writing. You need to list what your goals are and identify activities to support those goals."

Although IDPs are important, some DLA employees don't create or put time into developing them, Latker said.

"They think an IDP is a wish list; it's not," she said. "The IDP process is very structured. It should discuss your short- and long-term goals; list your competencies; identify your knowledge, skills and abilities; and be linked to your training, education and other professional development. It's a road map that says, 'I'm here, and this is where I would like to be in the future.'"

Although much of career development is focused on employees, supervisors aren't left out of the equation, Latker stressed.

"As a supervisor looking at the career map, I can identify where my employee is on the map, identify skills gaps, and partner with my employee to determine the training and developmental opportunities that should be incorporated into their IDP," she said. "It's truly a benefit to the employee, the supervisor and the organization."

The creation of the career mapping tool has been a work in progress, Latker said. Finding a simplified way to consolidate information into a manageable, user-friendly tool wasn't easy, she said.

"What most of the Defense Department agencies have developed is either a career guide or ladders or both, which may not be usable to everyone," she said. "There's often so much information that employees get lost or experience information overload. We wanted to design a tool that all employees, whether they're just out of college or five years from retirement, could go in and search, something that was user-friendly and at their fingertips."

She added that she also wanted a tool that she would use herself.

"I wanted something that I would use as an employee," she said, adding that she aimed for simplicity in developing the guides. "I want something that gets to the point, and that's what career mapping is all about. It's short, simple and gives you what you need to make good decisions."

With contracting, the largest of DLA's mission-critical fields, already mapped out, Latker and her team are focusing on mapping other mission-critical occupations. Human resources, environmental and property disposal were mapped out in fiscal 2011. In fiscal 2012, finance and accounting, Enterprise Business System supply, DLA Distribution supply and DLA Distribution traffic management were mapped, Latker said.

Career mapping is a collaborative, long-term endeavor.

"Our initial focus has been mapping careers with the highest number of employees," Latker said. "There are at least 21 career fields, with several career series in each, so we're tackling each of these. It's a very intensive process. We want to ensure functional community managers and their representatives are involved throughout the process. Contracting employees, whose career fields were mapped out first, seem pleased with the result, Latker said, noting that feedback has been positive.

"Feedback has been extremely favorable, especially from the contracting community since they have used the career map for about two years now," Latker said. "We've made about 650 three-dimensional, hard-copy pyramids for the supervisors to use in their discussions with their employees at their mid-year review, as well as during IDP open season."

For those unsure of the process, Latker offered a few suggestions.

"I suggest they go in and read the career guide on the HR website and review all the documents we've created for the individual career field. There's a detailed map of the developmental levels. Employees should partner with their supervisor to work on an IDP that includes five- and 10-year goals. They should review career-specific maps, look at available opportunities to include training and development or rotational programs and tuition assistance to name a few."

With a new, interactive website specifically for career mapping in the works, Latker said she hopes employees will visit the site to look at their career map and mark it as a favorite site.

"I'm excited to get the website up and running in collaboration with DLA Information Operations," she said. "I have a wish list of features I want in the site: competencies that you can scroll over and see the definitions, and features that wouldn't be possible in a hard-copy format. It's putting everything under one framework, one website. Once the site is up and operational, we'll be loading the completed career-specific maps. If someone is interested in transitioning to a new career, they will have documents that are easy to read, very user-friendly and have links to other sites all in one place."

Although designed for all employees, the career mapping tool is the greatest advantage to those new to DLA, Latker said.

"I think the tool is unbelievable, and once we get it onto an interactive website, it's going to be a great asset for all employees," Latker said. "Especially seeing our newest DLA hires, the ones beginning their career with DLA, wanting to use these career maps to say, 'OK, I'm here and I know where I want to go, now how can I get there?' Career maps will be the tool they can use to get them started and headed in the right direction."

In the future, Latker has even bigger plans for the career maps – recruitment.

"Right now, our goal is to continue to communicate and socialize career mapping to our DLA employees," she said. "We're discussing it and introducing it at our DLA Pathways orientations. We've had management meetings with many senior and executive-level personnel in DLA, guiding them through the career mapping document, demonstrating how the documents are linked and discussing the strategy used in our approach. Although we're not there yet, we want to use this as a recruitment tool so potential employees can get a feel for DLA and all the wonderful opportunities our agency offers to its employees.

"Eventually we may map other positions that are not considered mission-critical occupations but are essential to our mission like the administrative support field."

The DLA Human Resources website contains additional reference materials and tools for developing employees' potential and career opportunities. Navigate your browser to: 

http://www.hr.dla.mil/resources/

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