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News | May 13, 2020

ACO trains fellow agency colleagues during pandemic

By Tonya Johnson DCMA Public Affairs

Charles Dine, Jr. is a former pilot and instructor who now uses his virtual training skills to teach his fellow team members who are teleworking from home due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve been an instructor most of my life so it comes rather naturally to me,” he said. “Making the best of any experience always goes back to the old adage — you only get out of something that which you put in. To get the most out of any training experience, you have to put yourself in the right frame of mind. My goal as an instructor is to find at least one thing in the training that I can help the student understand and have that ‘ah-ha’ moment.”

Dine is a Defense Contract Management Agency administrative contracting officer who has adjusted how he teaches a variety of acquisition training courses due to increased telework. Dine, who works for the Contract Closeout Center located at DCMA Houston is based at DCMA Twin Cities in Bloomington, Minnesota. He joined the agency as a Keystone program industrial specialist almost seven years ago, and switched career fields to contracting four and a half years ago. He has been an ACO for two years. In addition to being an ACO, he is also an administrative grants and agreements officer.

Although the agency is operating during challenging circumstances, Dine is committed to providing training to his fellow agency teammates.

“I provide training primarily to contract administrators on the processes, procedures, and best practices used in contract closeout,” said Dine. “With the stand-up of the Houston branch of the closeout center, we’ve hired some new contract administrators, and in order to have them up to speed quickly, we provide training on the specifics of contract closeout. I also provide training on some of the DCMA eTool platforms like Cognos, PIEE (Procurement Integrated Enterprise Environment), MOCAS (Mechanization of Contract Administration Services), and others. I do a lot of one-on-one training, but I have had training sessions with our entire office of 22 individuals.”

Although he may train more than 20 at a time, Dine said he has learned from past experience that teaching smaller groups is better for questions and more individuals can share their suggestions. Dine prefers to teach using the Defense Connect Service, also known as DCS, and will soon incorporate using Microsoft Teams with the Commercial Virtual Remote Environment option. He said DCS is a good IT tool because it allows the instructor to share his or her computer screen to the audience. It also allows his colleagues to share their computer screen with him so he can watch them and make suggestions or corrections as they perform a task.

Dine explained employees can still work, learn and train in support of our nation’s warfighters and the American public even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency’s various IT platforms have been instrumental in facilitating learning and training during the pandemic.

“By nature we are social creatures and need social interaction. The IT platforms we have for meeting virtually provide a substitute for personal interaction,” said Dine. “Keeping the team engaged is more about the presentation of material and having everyone interact with each other. Asking questions, getting the team members talking and sharing ideas or problems helps with engagement.”

His experience as a pilot has taught him how to teach people who learn in a variety of ways. Dine knows how to engage with his colleagues to make sure they understand the IT platform and course content. As a result of taking Dine’s virtual training, his co-workers improve their comfortability using IT tools and hone their acquisition job skills.

“One of the most difficult hurdles is getting everyone comfortable with the medium, although the programs and applications are becoming easier to use and more intuitive,” he added. “I like to work one-on-one with those having difficulty before throwing them into the mix. That way we can focus on the content of the training and not the operation of the IT medium.”

Dine never envisioned that his aviation skills would come in handy as an ACO virtual instructor.

“I’ve done virtual training for a while now,” he said. “In my previous life as a commercial pilot, I also owned and operated a flight school. Aviation training, both in-person and virtually, taught me that using different mediums is par for the course. Computers and the introduction of the smart phone have provided opportunities to train in situations other than in-person. There are many platforms in the IT world that are specific for or can be adapted to the training environment. To be quite honest, good training is all about the instructor-student interaction.”

Dine encourages employees to continue to take the necessary training they need during this timeframe to hone their job skills.

“From my perspective, training isn’t just important to DCMA’s mission, but to everyone. We should never stop learning no matter what our stage in life,” he said. “It allows us to grow as individuals, help solve problems and give back to the community in unlimited ways. For DCMA specifically, government contracting can be very complex and daunting. The training we receive helps break government contracting down into manageable pieces. As we go up the learning ladder from rote to correlation, we can start to put everything together and work with more confidence and efficiency within the contracting environment.”

Johanna Akinfenwa, the contracts director of the Contract Closeout Center in Houston, said employees like Dine are vital to the DCMA mission. She said the group’s emphasis on teamwork is why Dine is able to successfully teach virtually.

“Teamwork is especially important in this timeframe because, as leaders, we are facing a new reality of leading from afar due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Akinfenwa. “Encouraging teamwork is extremely important because it creates synergy, promotes strength, unity, reliability, and fosters collaboration resulting in the sharing of new ideas.”

Akinfenwa said that her position required her to empower employees like Dine to be creative when doing their job and help their colleagues at the same time. She encouraged other leaders to foster creativity among their team to maintain the mission focus.

“As leaders it is important to recognize that we are living in an unprecedented time and we may have to make changes to our leadership style and how we manage our team in the upcoming months,” she said. “Leaders can encourage and continue important training by sharing and embracing the use of all available DCMA applications to provide live training to the workforce. When senior leadership embraces changes, then the workforce will also emulate those changes as well, which will help to increase employee morale and higher productivity.”