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Education & Training: Career development, career carousel

The carousel -- divided into two quadrants -- helps civil engineers develop themselves for future progression within the career field. Click here for a larger view.

The civil engineer career progression pyramid. Click here for a larger view.
Gerald Johnson
Civil Engineer Field Manager

    Over the course of your career, you have probably asked yourself, "What can I do to progress in the civil engineer fields?"

     For many years, civil engineering, as well as other disciplines, has represented the career progression plan graphically with the Civil Engineer Career Progression Pyramid . Senior leaders have been asked a variety of questions about the pyramid including: Do I have to make grade in the allotted time? What happens if I don't get a master's degree or attend professional military education? Will I be considered for promotion? Do I have to be mobile? I am not a degreed engineer, how does this apply to me? Individuals were still unclear how to develop themselves for future progression within the CE career field. Now, thanks to the work of the Functional Advisory Committee, we introduce the Civil Engineer Career Carousel Framework.

     The carousel is divided into two quadrants -- on the left is individual responsibility or "Cornerstone" and on the right is career progression or "Keystone." These terms describe moments in a career used by the Civil Engineer Civilian Development Team, comprised of CE senior leaders, to let you know where you stand relative to your peers.

     As a CE professional, building depth, job proficiency and technical skills serve as an important foundation for future roles and positions of greater responsibility. This portion of your development is known as "Cornerstone." Within these positions, you become recognized for your ability to get the job done and your willingness to take accountability for your actions, even when mistakes are made. You begin to volunteer for other assignments, propose solutions to problems instead of being told how to solve problems. You join professional organizations and begin to grow your network. Your efforts are being noticed and you begin to receive accolades. And remember, this part of your career is still mainly an individual responsibility. All the while, management is looking around for potential leaders and how best to develop them. Your name comes up in conversations. You have expressed interest in PME and have received your advanced degree or are pursuing one -- all noticed by your supervisor.

     At this point, you have established yourself professionally to take on additional roles to become a "Keystone" employee.  Senior leaders in our career field recognize your potential for taking on challenging positions with increased responsibility, and you indicate your willingness to leave your "comfort zone" through volunteering to be mobile, and agree for developmental positions, such as those offered through the Civilian Strategic Leader Program. These positions broaden your perspective, giving you a wider understanding of the roles of other disciplines in the Air Force, as well as other services and even defense and federal agencies. You have increased the contacts in your network, all with varying perspectives that add up to a holistic approach to problem solving. You're more collaborative and have built a reputation that brings influence to situations vice just a technical solution. 

     But how do you know when to transition from "Cornerstone" to "Keystone" or back? Let's say a great position opened up and you're being considered. This position would move you to Keystone. But wait, your daughter just entered her senior year of high school and your wife landed a great job. Now is not the best time to move. Okay, what do you do? Discuss it first with your immediate supervisor then with your career field manager or functional manager. You decide you're still willing to do your job and do it well, but now is not the time to move. That is perfectly acceptable -- you can move back to being a "Cornerstone" of our career field with no repercussions. When the time is right, signal your ability to become a "Keystone" again, move from one carousel to another and you will be evaluated and back on the progression track.
     Sometimes career progression is linear, but more often than not, other factors influence career development. With planning, individual initiatives and leadership support, you can plan your career development in harmony with the rest of your life, whether as a Cornerstone or Keystone professional. This ability to synchronize your professional career with your personal life rhythm is one of the strengths and benefits of a life in civil service. Our Air Force requires both Cornerstone and Keystone employees, combined with the uniformed perspective, to bring diversity of thought to a decision-making environment full of challenges and rapid change. We urge you to learn more about these opportunities through the CE Force Development Team at the Air Force Personnel Center and combine the advice they provide you with mentoring opportunities with your supervisor to solidify your career plans and mold your expectations. 

Keystone Vectors:
Ready: Everything in place, slate/apply now to next available more challenging position at same or higher grade
Groom: In line for higher responsibility, has one or more gaps, slate/apply now to fill educational, professional or experiential gap or  needs to complete current tour controlled assignment then slate/apply

Cornerstone Vectors:
On-Track: Serve at same level/future potential at higher level, stay in place for 1-2 years then move to Keystone path or lateral level position
Current Assignment: May/may not have potential to move to higher responsibility, stay in place until personal desire, mobility, initial development, or performance improvement status changes.

Editor's Note: This article is part of the education and training summer series.