As the Pentagon moves to create novel ways of customizing acquisition to make the process faster and more agile, a new crop of acquisition professionals is learning their job and choosing what they learn based on specialization. At the Defense Acquisition University (DAU), aspiring contracting officers focus on the basics, and then they pick and choose based on what area of expertise they need.

Dr. Bill LaPlante, the undersecretary of Defense for acquisition and sustainment, called the changes at DAU transformational.

“If you haven’t gone and seen online, all the courses and things that they put in, a new generation of training for the workforce, it’s very, very impressive,” LaPlante said at the Naval Postgraduate School Acquisition Research Symposium Wednesday.

“We have to build the next generation of acquisition professionals. And we have to keep them. We have to continue to make this a great field of work and expertise,” LaPlante said.

Woolsey described the evolution  at DAU as necessary adaptations to a workforce that  changes generationally. He said the expectations are different from when he started working at the school nine years ago. Unlike previous generations, today’s workforce expects their careers to go different directions over time.

“The way we’re tailoring, training and giving people a chance to drive their learning as their careers go, I think this helps. People aren’t going to be as patient as maybe they were before about signing up for a class months ahead of time or remembering what they learned 10 years ago. They want the knowledge now,” Woolsey said in an interview with Federal News Network at the symposium.

One of the biggest differences in the way DAU now teaches its students is the ability to deliver education in different forms. The days of everyone sitting in class together are long gone. Now students have the option of classroom, hybrid or remote learning experiences.

“We do webinars now to get a lot of information out to people. We’ve had 70,000 people attend webinars this year. Being able to reach a lot of people quickly is what we have to be able to do in the modern world in so many ways, but especially at DAU,” Woolsey said.

The webinars proved to be a powerful tool in allowing people to specialize. Woolsey used the example of teaching middle tier acquisition (MTA). It’s a pathway used to rapidly develop prototypes within an acquisition program and get them into production. While not everyone taking courses at DAU wants to learn about MTA, those who do can learn online. Woolsey said the school’s website ran 210,000 MTA sessions so far this fiscal year.

Small business acquisition used to be taught in the classroom as part of the core curriculum. Now, it is part of the optional course work that students can take at any point in their careers.

“Instead of just certification, we have a credential in small business. There are packages of learning that help you learn about small business at the time that you need to learn it,” Woolsey said. “The needs of small business change over time, so we have supplementary material; we have webinars on small business; we have a lot of different ways to help you evolve as the understanding of the needs of small business evolves.”

In addition to a new variety of courses, DAU President James Woolsey started an acquisition workforce innovation team to find ways for contracting officers to drive change. It’s part of an effort to develop and retain talent in the acquisition workforce.