In this new monthly column, Defense Daily highlights individuals from across the government, industry and academia whose efforts contribute daily to national defense, from the program managers to the human resource leaders, to the engineers and logistics officers.
Toni Johnson serves as the director of talent acquisition and diversity and inclusion at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Fair Lakes, VA. Barb Green is the senior manager of talent acquisition at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As senior talent acquisition officials, they work to bring in the top talent for the company’s communications and information systems programs. Their roles include managing talent acquisition systems, leading diversity & inclusion programs and overseeing recruiting and sourcing teams.
How did you get involved in the defense industry or community?
Toni Johnson: I am involved in the defense industry both professionally and personally. I went to college through a Navy civilian scholarship to study engineering and I co-oped at the Naval Underwater Systems Center in Newport, Rhode Island throughout college. Through this experience I had an opportunity to get up close and personal with next generation submarines and technology that would power them. I also have a father who was in WWII in the Navy and those stories filled my childhood. Additionally, I have a daughter who is in her second year at West Point and I am involved in the West Point parents club for our region. My husband and I continuously stay educated on changes, advancements, future capabilities and adversities happening to and for military personnel with a more personal view than I had in the past.
Barb Green: I am a lifelong resident of the Berkshires in Massachusetts. In fact, I began my career working for the defense business at General Electric in the 1980s in Pittsfield. After several mergers and acquisitions, I have worked for General Dynamics for the past 23 years. Our employees take pride in knowing the work we perform for the U.S. Navy ensures the safety of our military that lead, serve and protect the world we live in. Because our company has been part of the Berkshires for more than 60 years, the residents in our community have the same sense of pride that our employees have.
What are some challenges you faced working through your career?
Toni Johnson: In the beginning of my career, I had to overcome my apprehension to reach out and ask for help. So, some of my challenges were self-inflicted. I think maturity helps you realize that no one knows everything, all of the time. As a manager, I pride myself on collaboration, listening to other’s ideas, debating or negotiating the best path forward, and allowing teammates the space to learn what they do not know. By doing this, I am able to establish work relationships and environments that ultimately breed shared successes and stronger teams.
Barb Green: When I began my career there were less women working in the defense industry. Oftentimes in the past that meant that advancing my career was more challenging than the opportunities available to me and my counterparts today. I’m grateful that I continued my career at General Dynamics and now have the opportunity to hire our future defense leaders.
Can you describe specific challenges and successes of recruiting engineers with competition only increasing across the defense industry?
Toni Johnson: We are beginning to find more success with the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge Program and that has been hugely rewarding. We are fortunate to have a good community of veterans at General Dynamics Mission Systems and they are diligent in helping to outreach and recruit and take the time to work out small hurdles to make us successful, like we found in the Skillbridge Program. Since the General Dynamics Mission Systems customer base is largely military, we have a shared sense of mission with our veteran hires and that makes us a natural fit across all of our locations.
Barb Green: Although I recruit across the country, I’d like to focus on what is both a challenge and an opportunity at our General Dynamics Mission Systems facility in Pittsfield, MA. The Berkshires of western Massachusetts is a rural community so it does not have the defense critical mass or population that our other operating locations in Washington, D.C. or Scottsdale, AZ, have. However, we have been able to use this rural quality of life as a differentiator to attract millennials that are looking for an environment that offers outdoor recreation, theatre and exciting work opportunities. By focusing on this type of recruit, we are recruiting in areas that are similar to the Berkshires such as upstate New York and at colleges and universities in western Massachusetts. We are finding that people that are familiar with this lifestyle choose to work for us at General Dynamics Mission Systems in Pittsfield.
Did you feel like you always had sufficient mentors and leaders to help guide you? Why/why not?
Toni Johnson: I feel like I had appropriate mentors when I needed them or wanted them. Maturity helps and I found that many people were willing to give advice or share an experience or hear my concerns if I was willing to make the first step and ask for what I needed. I have had mentors at all levels, genders, ethnicities, ages. I think people do not always realize that mentors do not have to fit into a particular mold, and most people find great satisfaction in being helpful to another.
Barb Green: I have had a number of mentors throughout my career that have provided me with knowledge about our technology and engineering as well as human resources and personnel management.
How do you work to be a mentor yourself to younger counterparts?
Toni Johnson: I volunteer through many organizations professionally to provide career advice, resume reviews, mock interviews, and team sponsorships. As a manager, I try to actively create opportunities for teammates to learn through interaction with more seasoned colleagues on teams.
Barb Green: General Dynamics Mission Systems has a mentoring program that encourages existing employees to reach out and connect with new hires. This program has been very successful because it ensures our new employees feel connected to our work and our community. I have personally been able to mentor several of our team members in talent acquisition. I make this a priority in my daily interactions.
What does it mean to be successful in your career field?
Toni Johnson: Success means working in a field each day where I can see and feel my level of contribution and receiving appropriate compensation for it. It also means having colleagues, coworkers and leaders have the confidence in my capabilities and the contributions that I bring to the organization and my team.
Barb Green: To me, success in my career is defined as finding the best person for the right job. I feel I am successful when I see new recruits in the facility and it gives me great pride to see them interacting with other business professionals. It gives me such joy to have employees come up to me and say, “Barb, do you remember when you interviewed me 20 years ago?”
What are some of the under-appreciated positions in the defense field, the unsung heroes or essential cogs in the machine that help the job get done with less recognition?
Toni Johnson: I think those who are deployed are the unsung heroes. They work in varying conditions, many times remote and away from family and friends, with little hands on management, using ingenuity and all the knowledge they have to execute, trouble shoot, solve problems, and avert problems and very few are there to witness these countless, correct decisions, or fully understand the endurance and perseverance it requires. Ultimately, they are keeping us all safe and that is worthy of our admiration and appreciation.
Barb Green: I agree with Toni that those who are deployed are the unsung heroes.
How can the industry improve in promoting these individuals and building them up?
Toni Johnson: We can continue to sponsor our veterans through programs like SkillBridge. We have employees here at General Dynamics Mission Systems who currently serve in the military. As a business, we assist their families through community programs, donations, and time. Additionally, our employees assist our veterans and their families through career related opportunities, training, and mentorships within the civilian workforce.
Barb Green: In addition to SkillBridge, General Dynamics Mission Systems in Pittsfield works very closely with Soldier On, a private nonprofit organization that is committed to ending veteran homelessness. Since 1994, the organization has been providing homeless veterans with transitional housing and supportive services. Our employees volunteer their time to assist veterans with resume development, computer assistance and the company hosts an Annual Golf Tournament that has raised more than $350,000 for the Soldier On organization.
How has the culture changed around diversity within your career?
Toni Johnson: At General Dynamics Mission Systems there is open dialogue, more education about the realities of various constituents within the diversity communities, and a growing effort to improve issues related to inclusion or lack thereof. For example, we set aside over one million dollars each year for community efforts and many are focused on veterans and their families, the disability community, LGBT community and other diverse groups. In addition, diversity is quite a focus for our company’s leadership and we are excited about the ongoing ability to be more creative in continuing to improve our work environment.
Barb Green: General Dynamics Mission Systems has instituted a Diversity and Inclusion priority area that focuses on workplace inclusivity and workforce diversity designed to create a sense of belonging for all employees. Additionally, our General Dynamics Mission Systems Pittsfield, Massachusetts, facility, kicked off the ForWARD (For Women’s Advancement, Recognition and Development) group. The ForWARD mission is to drive the recruitment, professional development, engagement and visibility of women at General Dynamics Mission Systems. The group is open to all employees and provides a space where all employees can freely exchange ideas, elevate professional skills and gain access to mentors, as a way to enable career advancement our company.
What is your advice for new entrants to the defense/military community?
Toni Johnson: Keep yourself prepared just like you did in the military or your civilian life and that may mean through mentors, training and education, taking advantage of all the face to face and self-learning opportunities, such as: resume and interview counseling, professional training, classes online and in person, certifications, and degree opportunities. Keep or gain a security clearance, if possible, when in the military. It will expand the number of career options you have as you transition. Plan ahead for goals you currently have (they may change and that is Ok, too). Do not make assumptions about who can or cannot help you as you move forward. Many people can be of assistance and many want to be of assistance to you!
Barb Green: Always be looking to the future, both from a technical perspective and a personal perspective. Technology is always advancing and by embracing technology advances, you can advance your career! As you grow your career, always bring someone along with your advancement.
What do you see as the future of your sector in national defense?
Toni Johnson: I think technology will continue to be more and more sophisticated. I think software continues to be a vital part of technology, if not at the end state, in the development phases. I think the space domain is increasingly important, but all domains, land, sea, cyber will also be important in keeping us safe.
Barb Green: Technology advancements in cyber security, artificial intelligence and machine learning will be critical skills for the future. At our General Dynamics Mission Systems facility in Pittsfield, the growth of our business will continually evolve with the work that is performed for the U.S. Navy’s submarine, surface ship and unmanned vehicle programs. The Berkshires is gearing up for this growth by investing in the Berkshire Innovation Center and developing a workforce pipeline by working with local colleges and universities such as Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts , Williams College, Berkshire Community College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, among others.
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