VA Rolls Out Competency-Driven IT Workforce Development Models

by Janet Pinkerton | Aug 22, 2011

The right information technology (IT) training and certification for the right person at the right time—that’s the mission of the competency-driven IT workforce development model in the Office of Information & Technology (OIT) at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Originally deployed to information security officers across VA facilities, OIT’s competency model project is being expanded to encompass all IT staff and is rolling out, by job classification, to the approximately 8,000 IT employees working in VA’s 1,400 facilities scattered through out the U.S., Puerto Rico and Guam. These IT workers are managing a VA IT enterprise that, by recent accounts, consists of a nation-wide single, consolidated network, including 314,000 desktop computers, 30,000 laptops, 18,000 blackberries and mobile devices, 200,000+ medical devices, and 448,000 email accounts.

“Our CIO, Roger Baker has directed us to roll out competency modeling across everyone in OIT,” said Terri Cinnamon, Director of OIT’s Information Technology Workforce Development at VA. “We are targeting the GS-2210 series (IT Management Specialty job roles) and later looking at more supportive roles in OIT.”

The competency models for each VA IT job role are based on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s 2210 IT Roadmap, and have been leveraged for VA OIT with input from subject matter experts and VA employees. They also implement the certification program outlined by the Department of Defense’s 8570 Directive, employing CompTIA A+, Network+ and Security+ certifications, among others.

The competency models are integrated into VA’s online Talent Management System (TMS), built by Platteau Systems (a company recently purchased by SuccessFactors). Using the TMS interface, an employee can sign onto his or her account, perform a self-assessment of his or her skills, and identify any skill gaps. The employee then meets with a supervisor to review the self-assessment and develop an individual electronic development plan (eIDP) to acquire specific training or certification to build skill levels.

“It’s the supervisor’s job to build the electronic IDPs, but the employee needs to be driving it (the eIDP) based upon where they want to go in their career,” said Cinnamon.

Assessments with the competency model are strictly focused on employee career and skill development. “It cannot be a part of a performance assessment,” said Cinnamon.

Strategic Skill-building

The TMS connects employees to needed training and certifications and tracks not only the employee’s progress in acquiring training and certifications, but also the supervisors’ work with employees to develop the eIDPs.

Within the GS-2210 series, approximately 1200 information security officers (ISOs), policy and planning professionals (CIOs), software developers and IT project manager are already using the VA’s competency model. Next to join are system administrators, data managers and network administrators. Next year, VA will bring on IT customer service/help desk employees.

“The goal is that everyone in OIT has a competency model and can develop electronic IDPs,” Cinnamon said.

The VA has long used CompTIA certifications as a part of its IT workforce development, with VA employees earning hundreds of CompTIA certifications since CompTIA A+ was introduced in 1993. Now with the competency models, the VA is using the training and testing for CompTIA certifications more strategically. Within the first six months of 2011, 119 VA employees earned 143 CompTIA certifications as a part of their career development.

The use of certifications within the competency models “allows us to have some metrics and validation that our people who specialize in IT roles have that skill,” said Cinnamon, adding that VA certification exam pass rate percentages are in the “high 80s.” VA does a lot of pre-requisite training, she added. “We want to make sure we’re putting people to the right certifications, and not sending people to certification programs if they are not ready.”

System-wide Accountability

TMS reporting features enable VA’s entire chain of IT command to track IT workforce development and comply with FISMA (Federal Information Security Management Act) reporting requirements.

The competency model “is an enabler,” said Cinnamon. “It gives you a tool and a validated process to be able to more easily identify what skills an employee, or a group of employees have, what skills you need to target for additional training and to be able to build individual an eIDPs.”

It’s also enabled VA to more cost-effectively identify and obtain the skills, training and certifications its IT workforce needs, she said. “It’s having a map, a process, and metrics to improve the skills of your IT staff.”

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