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Training, Incentives and the State of DAU in 2024

DAU President Jim Woolsey participated in a discussion with Eisenhower School students that centered on DAU’s approach to training for the acquisition workforce in 2024.
DAU President Jim Woolsey speaking at NDU.
DAU President Jim Woolsey speaking at NDU.
Matthew Sablan / March 26, 2024

Training, Incentives and the State of DAU in 2024

DAU President Jim Woolsey participated in a discussion with Eisenhower School students that centered on DAU’s approach to training for the acquisition workforce in 2024. This conversation took place during the Strategic Acquisition course, aimed at preparing future acquisition leaders to “navigate the intricate challenges of unprecedented times,” according to the National Defense University.

Training and Incentives

Training for the acquisition workforce is undergoing massive change, notably with the new workforce framework and the recommended Planning, Programming, Budget and Execution Reform. In addition, the way individuals interact with employment has changed, with younger workers changing jobs more frequently and having different motivations. All of this framed the discussion about how DAU “provides the training needed for your career,” Woolsey said.

Woolsey began by comparing the old model with the new one. The old certification model relied on upfront training; the new certification model involves a more streamlined list of required training, with opportunities for individuals to pursue learning that would be valuable to their career paths. “We need to get people to do the extra parts of training needed to be combat capable,” Woolsey said. Developmental training focuses on the workforce keeping up with the world while developing their skills to guide their career.

Self-Directed Learning

DAU wants the acquisition workforce to embrace self-directed learning as a vehicle to further their careers. “This new model is a lot better than what we previously had,” Woolsey said. Training remains a priority for the workforce, and the acquisition community’s approach to training remains different from other operational career fields. 

“People don’t have time,” Woolsey agreed with the Eisenhower School students. DAU is working with partners throughout DoD on specific guidance and policies to guide the workforce in training. DAU also provides specific, targeted support for offices seeking specific training through workshops and partnership with the different functional area leads. “We’re trying to get smarter [at providing training at the local level],” Woolsey said. 

Self-directed learning will require more than incentives, Woolsey explained, and finding these incentives will require creative solutions. While DAU wants every evaluation, promotion decision, job selection or similar event to ask candidates what continuous learning they have accomplished, Woolsey realizes “we’re not there yet.” Instead, DAU wants leadership and the workforce to recognize the value of what people have learned. 

What DAU Is Doing

DAU is working to implement and deliver better training products in leadership skills and critical thinking. Woolsey said part of enabling the acquisition workforce is for leaders to support risks, while also providing the next generation of leaders with training. DAU is addressing this directly with efforts such as the Build a Better Program Manager (PM) effort, which aims to fill the skill gaps across the acquisition workforce. “One message is clear already; we need to start leadership and collaboration training earlier in people’s careers,” Woolsey said.

The Defense Acquisition Credential program has continued to grow in popularity among the workforce. However, there is still skepticism and concern that credentials won’t translate well when on resumes and when looking at next steps in careers. “DAU wants having a credential to be a resume bullet that allows people to demonstrate expertise,” Woolsey said. “We want credentials to be useful inside and outside the department, like DAWIA.” While credentials will never weigh as heavily as experience, they provide the workforce with a way to get started in a career field or path.

The State of DAU

Established by Congress in 1991, DAU’s mission and vision focus on developing the acquisition professionals who provide the warfighters what they need, when they need it. In 1991, Woolsey explained, an establishment like DAU as a central school for training made sense. Back then, the emphasis for acquisition was combatting waste, fraud and abuse, cost overruns, and excessive regulation. Acquisition was not treated as a profession, and therefore DoD needed to establish standards and qualifications. The Defense Acquisition Workforce Improvement Act addressed these problems.

“Today, the world is changing fast,” Woolsey said. “All of us must do more to go faster.” DAU has worked to transform itself from the organization it was in 1991 to one that can meet modern challenges. One of these challenges is adapting to the information-rich environment of today compared to 1991. DAU’s transformation has helped to restructure the certification program into a content-rich, user-centric learning platform that gives customers what they need when they need it.

To bring DAU into the modern acquisition world, Woolsey had a request of the attendees and the acquisition community.

What DAU Is Asking

Woolsey relayed that DAU has developed new content to meet modern learning needs, leveraging new methods of content delivery from webinars to workshops. DAU webinars caught on during COVID, with over 120,000 attendees in 2023 compared to about 10,000 before COVID. “We need to have as much creativity as we can to change our culture,” Woolsey said. One area where DAU hopes the acquisition workforce can leverage more creative solutions from is the Adaptive Acquisition Framework, and Woolsey wants the acquisition workforce to let DAU know how helpful they find the framework and when they use it.

To make informed decisions, DAU wants students, event attendees and others using DAU’s services to share their experiences, respond to surveys and provide insights into the value DAU is providing. Woolsey explained that DAU can “take advantage of contact with students and leaders to get insights.”

“The world that we’re living in today requires more than ever that all of us who are leaders be active and proactive in training, learning and development,” Woolsey said. “DAU’s transformation will empower the workforce to tailor future career goals.”

To achieve this, Woolsey asked the acquisition community to engage with DAU. “We need richer discussions and more proactive learning,” he said. While DAU works with OSD on policy, Woolsey reiterated DAU’s commitment to “communicate, communicate, communicate,” with the workforce, leaders and stakeholders.

DAU President Jim Woolsey speaking at NDU. Matthew Sablan