New personnel system key to ferreting out untapped Soldier talent

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Oct. 05, 2016) -- There's a lot of untapped talent in the Army, especially among Soldiers who serve in the reserve components, but that's going to change, according to the Army's senior personnel officer.

Most Citizen-Soldiers put on their uniforms at least two days a month, but they still spend most of their time in civilian clothes doing jobs that require skills and talents the Army hasn't really ever paid much attention to, said Lt. Gen. James C. McConville, the Army's deputy chief of staff, G-1.

That will change with full deployment of new personnel software, called the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army. IPPS-A will provide a huge range of human resources and pay capabilities for the regular Army, the Army National Guard and the Army Reserve, McConville said.

One of the capabilities IPPS-A will provide Army leadership is the ability to track talent inside the force, across all three components of the Army. It will track the skills and talents and capabilities that individual Soldiers might have, outside their regular Army job.

"It'll be the first time in the history of the Army that we have all three components, the active, the Guard and the Reserve on one system," McConville said. "That's a huge deal. Right now as the G-1 of the Army, I can't screen for the talent I have in the Guard and Reserve."

At the 2016 Association of the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, leaders said IPPS-A will replace 45 existing systems that currently do things independently of each other.

McConville relayed a scenario from about eight years ago, back when he was serving as deputy commanding general (support), 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), and Combined Joint Task Force-101, Operation Enduring Freedom, in Afghanistan.

Then, he said, there was a surge, and "we needed a lot of skill sets that would help us build up Afghanistan."

There were Reserve and Guard forces there, he said, and those Soldiers were asked to provide information about talents and skills they used during their civilian jobs.

"Basically what we found out, the Army is managing this person as a supply sergeant, but they might have been running a construction company," back home, McConville said. "Or they were an S-3, or a captain or a major in infantry, but we found out this person was the head of the Texas Highway Department."

In the reserve components, the Army has an array of talents, right at its fingertips, he said. But until now there's been no way to document that talent, or to identify who has it, so the Army could make use of it. The Army's Talent Management Task Force will use IPSSA-A as a way to document those talents and exploit them where needed, he said.

"We mange people in the Army basically by two variables: what is your rank and what is your occupational specialty," McConville said. "We don't know enough about them. We truly don't know what their knowledge, skills and abilities are. Now we have a million folks that we can tap into and get them on the field in the right position, in the right place at the right time."

Now, McConville said, the Army will be able to use IPPS-A to define Soldiers by as many as 25 variables, for instance, instead of just rank and specialty, and that will provide much more detail on what a Soldier can do beyond what the Army currently thinks might be the capability. That will help the Army put the best people into the jobs it needs to fill, he said.

"We're going to be able to screen their name for their cognitive and non-cognitive skill sets. So if we're hiring somebody, and need somebody who is a very good writer or good speaker, we'll know that. And if we want somebody that can work with the interagency, we'll know that ... or they speak this language, or have this type of skill set.

Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, director of the Army Talent Management Task Force, said IPPS-A will provide "talent matching" for Army jobs.

"There are some social apps out there that do that," already he said. "But this is on a very large scale, almost 1.1 million people. It's an information technology system that will allow us to see the talents that are out there, to forecast the requirements of the jobs we need done, and those jobs may have to do with a deployment or upcoming operation, and then make that automated match, so the individual can see it, the assignment officer can see it, and leaders and officers can see it.

"The best way to think of it is an open market place for allowing units, allowing individuals to compete for talent, and to allow individuals to tell us what they want, and to be able to see the jobs that are out there in the future."

Because IPPS-A works across all three components, it'll allow the Army to dip into the total force for talent, Shoffner said. That's something it couldn't do before, and something it will benefit greatly from when IPPS-A comes fully online.

"It's going to be a game-changer once we get the system in place," he said.

This winter, Shoffner said, a "bridge" to IPPS-A called the "assignment interactive module" will be piloted with students from the Command and General Staff College.

"We're going to use our normal distribution cycles, our normal assignment cycles, to take a look at that population -- it's about 900 officers -- and that'll be our first stab or attempt at trying to get this right," he said.

The Army should have an automated talent management capability established by late next summer, he said.