New Orleans district takes proactive approach to recruiting new employees

USACE New Orleans District
Published March 13, 2019

When competing for new engineering graduates at the Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) conference against the likes of Northrup Grumman and other top private sector companies in February, New Orleans District Geotechnical Branch-Deputy Chief April Falcon-Villa had two tools at her disposal to level the recruiting playing field.

One of them was one of her employees, Thomas West, who recently was recognized as the 2019 Black Engineer of the Year in the “Most Promising Engineer” category, and the other was the direct hiring authority given to Corps hiring managers for specific positions. New Orleans District Deputy Commander Maj. Jordon Davis received the 2019 BEYA Modern Day Technology Leader award at the conference as well.

“Thomas is from Jackson State, and I was able to point to him and tell them (the students from Jackson State),’This could be you in 10 years,’” Falcon-Villa said.

While West provided an example of how the Corps develops new engineers, having the direct hiring authority capability helps level the playing field in the Corps’ ability to hire engineering talent in what is becoming an increasingly competitive environment, she said.

“With that we were able to make tentative offers, because we can’t wait or we risk losing them,” she said, adding that one prospective hire had four other job offers before she was to make an offer at the BEYA conference.

Falcon-Villa was part of a team from the New Orleans District, which also included New Orleans District Commander Col. Michael Clancy, Davis, Kibwa Walker, Lawrence Cutno, and Durund Elzey. The group worked together to sell the idea of working not only for the Corps, but the New Orleans District specifically, and was aided by an onsite Civilian Personnel Advisory Center that processed resumes and transcripts to ensure prospective employees met the qualifications for each position as well as processed fingerprints for the required employee background checks.

“The Corps is the premiere engineering company in the world,” Elzey explained. “You can work on a billion dollar project, and at the same time you are serving your country.”

Having hiring managers at conferences like the BEYA conference and career fairs across the country is critical to the Corps’ ability to compete for employees, he said.

“It’s a lot like speed dating; you only have a few minutes to decide if this is a person you could see spending the next 10 or 30 years working with and if they could see working with you,” Elzey said.

Those few minutes are why it is important to have people, regardless as to what their job is, as part of the team, who can sell the district while hiring managers are conducting interviews and meeting with other prospective employees, Walker said.

“You have to make them want to come back by engaging them, because a lot of them, when they see Army, they just keep walking past,” he said, adding that at the BEYA conference the district’s team was successful in getting the majority of prospective employees to stop back by and talk to the hiring managers.

Unlike many private companies which have full-time recruiters, the Corps does not, which makes the time spent at career fairs and conferences that much more critical, Falcon-Villa said.

“It’s another part of my job, but you have to make time to do it,” Falcon-Villa said.

While the district was successful in hiring four new employees at the BEYA conference, Davis said it was just another step in the district’s efforts to take a more proactive approach to recruiting new employees.

“The New Orleans District is one of the largest districts, and I want it to be the standard when it comes to recruiting.”

The district will be travelling to Texas A&M University and the HENNAC conference career fairs later this year as part of its recruitment efforts, Davis said.

Charles H. Melton