In national security, developing a workforce with the right skills is not just a priority – it’s an imperative. Recognizing this need, the DoD launched a pioneering pilot program known as the Defense Civilian Training Corps (DCTC). This innovative initiative aims to prepare undergraduate students for a direct path into DoD acquisition-related civilian careers. Offering 100% tuition scholarships, monthly stipends, and immersive summer internships, DCTC is a transformative program that not only identifies talent but also cultivates it to meet the evolving challenges of national defense.

The DCTC pilot program has its roots in the FY20 National Defense Act, and its development reflects the government’s commitment to building a strong talent pipeline for the acquisition workforce. As national security challenges evolve, it’s crucial to have a workforce that possesses the skills and dedication needed to address these challenges effectively.

A Unique Approach to Talent Development

The DCTC program is designed to offer undergraduate students a comprehensive and hands-on experience in the realm of DoD acquisition. While similar to the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) in structure, DCTC focuses on civilian roles within the DoD, emphasizing a defense-focused, active-learning curriculum. This program’s design encourages students to engage with today’s acquisition professionals, working together on mentoring, problem-solving, and innovating to address real DoD challenges.

Mark E. Krzysko, DoD’s principal deputy director of enterprise information for acquisition data and analytics, succinctly sums up the program’s essence when he says, “This program is designed to build those critical skills necessary for you to make a difference and have a successful career in the department.”

The Inaugural Year: Paving the Way for Future Talent

The DCTC pilot program commenced its inaugural year with great promise. Four universities—namely, the University of Arizona, North Carolina A&T University, Purdue University, and Virginia Tech—were chosen to participate in this groundbreaking initiative. Ninety undergraduate students were selected from a pool of 360 applicants, reflecting the program’s selective nature.

DCTC has an integrated curriculum, where students continue their studies in their majors while also undertaking two credit hours of additional coursework tailored to the program. This approach ensures that participants not only develop a deep understanding of their field but also gain a holistic view of DoD acquisition.

One of the most significant advantages of the DCTC program is its integration with DoD organizations. These organizations actively engage with students, proposing real projects and committing to mentoring relationships. This creates an immersive learning experience where students have the opportunity to work on projects that matter, providing innovative solutions to pressing challenges.

Garry Shafovaloff, director of DCTC’s pilot, highlights the unique value of the program, stating, “The magic of the program is in the design, giving students the opportunity for public service and to be part of something bigger than themselves. That’s exciting.”

In addition to practical experience, DCTC emphasizes teamwork and problem-solving, qualities that are crucial for success in the field of defense acquisition. It’s not just about individual talent; it’s about how that talent can contribute to the greater mission of national security.

A Blueprint for the Future

The world is rapidly evolving, and national security challenges are becoming increasingly complex. One of the driving forces behind DCTC is the need to prepare a future workforce that can address these challenges effectively. As the United States faces pacing threats from nations like China, it’s imperative to equip the DoD with a civilian workforce that can support and equip the military for success.

The program’s design reflects a commitment to diversity and inclusivity. By including students from diverse technical and nontechnical backgrounds, DCTC mirrors the multifunctional teams within the DoD. This diversity ensures a broad range of perspectives, which is invaluable when tackling complex issues in defense acquisition.

The DCTC pilot program is not just about developing talent for the DoD; it’s about creating a model that can inspire similar efforts across various government agencies. Congress recognized the importance of such a program in the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Act and further refined its direction in the fiscal year 2023 NDAA. This collaborative approach between academia and government has the potential to address critical skill shortages and strengthen the talent pipeline needed for the acquisition workforce.

Karen Thornton, a research fellow with the Acquisition Innovation Research Center, emphasizes the holistic nature of the program: “Success of the acquisition teams depends on strong communication, listening skills, compassion, respect, and collaboration from the engineers to the logisticians to the contracting officers. We want to make sure that students are building those skills.”

Overcoming Barriers to Public Service

The integration of ROTC activities into the program is another noteworthy feature. By exposing DCTC scholars to the military culture, the program aims to develop well-rounded professionals who understand the broader context of national defense.

One significant barrier to attracting top talent to public service roles in national defense is the often-lengthy security clearance process. DCTC addresses this issue by actively working to help students obtain the necessary security clearances. By streamlining this process, the program ensures that talented individuals can join the national defense workforce without unnecessary delays or obstacles.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.