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Acquisition Workforce Spotlight, Jonathan Higgins, VA

Published on Apr 19, 2021

1. How long have you worked at the VA?

I will be celebrating my 3rd year employment anniversary with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in October 2021.

2. What is your quick background before coming to the VA?

I worked at the Defense Acquisition University in the 4th Estate Director for Acquisition Career Management office, which supports the career development of over 28,000 acquisition workforce members. Prior to that, I worked in the Office of Human Capital Initiatives developing workforce policy and metrics.

3. What are major efforts your agency is currently working?

VA is currently involved in strategic and integrated acquisition workforce priorities such as:

  • Enhancing and advocating acquisition workforce mission capabilities via engagement, integration, and streamlined certification initiatives.
  • Ensuring acquisition workforce maturation and readiness via robust acquisition human capital planning efforts.
  • Promoting collaborative acquisition workforce engagement activities via training partnerships and improved professional development programs.

The transition from FAITAS to Cornerstone on Demand has been a major focus during FY21. Part of my responsibility is to ensure that the system meets the needs of the VA acquisition workforce (AWF). At the same time, I am also trying to take full advantage of new system capabilities to modernize our processes. Ensuring that the user community is informed of the upcoming changes continues to be a key priority as we move forward.

4. Tell us about one of your biggest successes achieved by you/your team/agency

One of VA's biggest success stories is the MISSION Act of 2018 which directed VA to improve its systemic challenges by providing improved access to high quality and timely health care. Aspects of the mission covered certifications and aggressive timeline requirements that my team and I had to address. We quickly developed a department-wide training and certification framework; a strategy to identify (by position) the facilities engineers and construction personnel; and a training and certification project implementation plan.

Being extremely familiar with learning designs and constructing federal certification programs, my team and I negotiated stakeholder support and used existing industry and DoD certification models to negotiate and optimize free training approaches. As a result, we were able to create the VA Facilities Engineering and Construction (department-wide) certification program in less than 60 days. Based on the number of concisely identified engineering personnel, we were able to save VA approximately $1.5M in training revenue. To date, we have continued to make progress, and we have over 95% of the FE/C community has been certified as of April 2021.

 5. What is the biggest challenge in your position supporting the AWF?

VA continues to face the following challenges in supporting its AWF members:

  • Strengthening enterprise program management performance and governance.
  • Accelerating data driven decisions/metrics to support a common vision for AWF professional development and performance.
  • Addressing AWF mission-readiness (closing competency gaps thru blended learning opportunities) and resolving mission-impacting issues (AWF recruitment, hiring, retention, and engagement).

We are a very large organization with approximately 400,000 federal employees and over 17,000 certified acquisition workforce members. Undertaking department-wide initiatives can be challenging. Getting the right people at the table, the right communications strategies, and at the right time are all essential ingredients to supporting VA’s AWF.

 6. What skills do you think are most critical to successfully perform your job?

A few critical skills that are important to successfully perform in the role of an ACM include:

  • Facilitating monthly, quarterly, and annual AWF strategy and engagement sessions to improve AWF talent and professional readiness.
  • Leveraging process improvement and automation through the use of technology.
  • Providing Executive leadership with bi-annual workforce trends and reports to assist them with forecasting recruitment/retention, training, and professional development strategies to optimize succession planning efforts.
  • Working collaboratively with other agencies to identify and implement best practices.

In my role as an associate ACM, my personal success has come through critical thinking, problem solving, clearly communicating, and consistent teambuilding. These skills along with a positive attitude and some patience have helped me along the way.

 7. What word of wisdom would you offer to your fellow acquisition career managers (ACM) or the acquisition workforce?

From one ACM to another, I would suggest that we all push forward with an innovative mindset! Our circumstances have driven significant change over the last year. The pandemic has changed how we work and how we live our lives. The change to CSOD has prompted us to reexamine how we do our work. Change has driven us to innovate, but innovation is like a muscle. You can either you use it, or it atrophies. Make sure you continue to use it and keep looking for better, smarter, and more streamlined ways to do things –even when the pace of change around you slows down.


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