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One of the good things about being in the business of bids and proposals is that the profession offers a variety of job opportunities, depending on your skill set and interests. You can be in proposal management or sales or business development or marketing or graphic design or several other adjacent roles that play a part in winning business.
One of the not-so-good things is that many folks don’t know this profession exists.
Some APMP members are out to change this. Through individual efforts, chapter initiatives or the Intentional Career Path (ICP) Committee, they have tapped into the future of the profession right where they are: the classroom.
Here, five APMP members discuss what they are doing to engage the next generation of bid and proposal professionals, provide perspective on why it’s crucial to mentor and educate young people about this career path, and offer advice on how current pros can get involved with the students in their community.
Neil Cobb, APMP Fellow, Retired Proposal Executive
Sonya Wooley, CP APMP, President of Mammoth Technologies
Jody Alves, APMP Board of Directors, APMP Business Sector Chair, Senior Proposal Writing Specialist at International Game Technology (IGT)
Jeremy Glover, Proposal Manager – Lead at Lockheed Martin
Sunil Agrawal, APMP India Chair, VP & Head of Commercial Excellence (Asia-Pacific) at ISS A/S
WinningTheBusiness.com: How did you get started bringing bids and proposals to the school setting?
Jody Alves: I began teaching proposals by mentoring proposal projects in 100-level writing and rhetoric classes at the University of Rhode Island (URI) in 2012, and we were rewarded with a full-semester 300-level class in 2014. The class came about through the proverbial aligning of the stars. At IGT, we were having some difficulty finding good proposal writers — we found good writers, but many of whom could not grasp the concept of proposal writing. At the same time, it had become clear to me, after attending my first few Bid & Proposal Cons, that younger generations weren’t well-represented [in our industry].
Then, a conversation between our then-head of global talent and URI’s coordinator of experiential education paved the way for me to connect with a willing professor to incorporate proposal development into his writing and rhetoric classes. I co-instructed with him through 2019 when he retired. My new co-instructor has brought exciting new dimensions to the class, which resides in the Department of Writing and Rhetoric within URI’s Harrington School of Communication and Media, part of the College of Arts and Sciences.
Jeremy Glover: Outside of my job, I am passionate about giving back to the community. Since I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the proposal/capture profession at a young age, it is my responsibility to help others by doing the same. I have done this with college, high school and middle school students because I believe in equal opportunities for everyone. [At work], I have served as a mentor to junior proposal managers and proposal coordinators as well as individuals who have no experience in the capture or proposal profession. In my role as an experienced proposal manager lead, it is my responsibility to bring along junior team members to guide them and help develop their professional skills within the organization.
Neil Cobb: I studied English and education as an undergrad, and I always wanted to teach at the college level. After I graduated from the University of North Texas technical communications master’s program, I was asked to “stay on” as an adjunct. I was exactly what they wanted: a recent grad who had practical experience.
I taught for almost 15 years in that capacity, working my way up from introductory courses to advanced courses. During this time, I worked with the department head to develop a six-credit-hour class that partnered with local companies to solve business problems using technical communication concepts. Each student team had to create a proposal for the solution they devised for the client company, and the group that won the business at the end of the semester received a monetary prize for the winning proposal and solution. I developed and taught the proposal unit for that course and was eventually offered a full-time job when I retired.
As a full-time lecturer, I took over the existing proposal/grant writing course at UNT. I introduced a commercial element to the course, which had been primarily focused on research grants. Teaching this course also afforded me the opportunity to write “Writing Business Bids and Proposals for Dummies” for APMP. I took a lot from my own experience, added information from the course, blended in the best practices of APMP and delivered a reference that I could use as the textbook for the course. Although I left UNT three years ago, the book is still used today as one textbook for the undergraduate UNT proposal class.
How did you become involved with the UNT course as a speaker?
Sonya Wooley: Neil introduced me to the chair of the UNT technical communications department, and we began discussions on how our APMP Lone Star chapter could work with the university to promote proposal management as a career choice. I have been so impressed by the students in the courses that I’ve spoken to. They have always been an engaged and genuine audience, and they ask great questions! I’ve connected with many of the students after my presentations and worked on a few of their school projects, mainly interviews about our career field and projections for the industry.
What do you cover in your course at URI?
Jody: We cover the whole proposal process in the class. Students leave with a wealth of highly marketable skills, including reading an RFP, interpreting RFP requirements, research, writing and refining customer-focused proposal responses, editing, use of graphics and captions, page layout, formatting, compliance, document structure, evaluation metrics and more. We provide exercises for them to learn and practice these skills as they develop their proposals. Tom Sant’s “Persuasive Business Proposals” is our textbook. The class evolves based on student feedback, and we’ll add sales process segments next semester, thanks to a wonderful new collaboration with APMP colleagues overseas.
We limit the class to 12-15 students, and they work in teams, so teamwork is a huge lesson for them as well. There are two projects per semester — the first is a complex RFP-based proposal project and the second is a prompt-based grant proposal project. We change the teams for the different projects, and each project requires a written proposal and oral presentation.
Each semester features guest speakers, all of whom discuss the importance of the proposal function and knowing how to do it well. We’ve had speakers from academia and industries such as technology/AI, pediatric medicine, urban youth support, funding foundation, oceanography, business intelligence/transformation, business engagement and athletics.
How has APMP India engaged with students in the university setting?
Sunil Agrawal: Through its governing board member Krishnakumar (KK) Iyer, in 2016, APMP India initiated a pilot program in a business school, Goa Institute of Management, where an elective on technical bid management was introduced to the final-year students in its Post Graduate Diploma in Management program. To date, about 300 students have passed this elective, and all of them have been placed in pre-sales/sales roles in the companies.
Additionally, we recently launched a business proposal writing course for final-year students at Vishwakarma Institute of Technology. Over 150 students have signed up for the course, which will be comprised of both theory and significant practical assignments. We intend to standardize the curriculum and delivery mechanism, and then expand to other institutes.
What do you think is one of the biggest misconceptions about this career among new professionals?
Neil: That it’s just a part of business — and a small niche at that. Bid and proposal management is much more than writing and project management. A proposal professional today is (or should be) a knowledge broker who brings a variety of experts, a vast number of resources, and an unlimited amount of data, content and know-how to a business opportunity. The professional proposal developer can be the difference between success and failure because he or she knows the past (having participated in many previous opportunities), the present (keeping up with the latest a company has to offer), and the future (anticipating the rapid change not only in his or her company’s business but also in the fast-moving art and science of proposal development).
Sonya: I find that the biggest challenge for new professionals is acknowledging the large and long learning curve. Our deadlines, techniques and especially our vocabulary are unique. I’ve been in the industry for over a decade, and I’m still constantly learning new ways or methods to improve my craft.
Jeremy: One of the biggest misconceptions I see from new people in the profession is that everyone thinks you have to be a proposal coordinator or manager, when that is not even close to the truth. The diversity I see in the proposal profession is my favorite part because you can be working with a graphic artist, a mechanical engineer, a doctor and a salesperson all on the same pursuit/bid. Pretty neat stuff if you ask me.
Why do you think it’s important to promote bid and proposal management as an intentional career path?
Jody: The main reason for promoting bid/proposal management as an intentional career path is to ensure the survival of our profession and craft. It’s that simple. If new graduates, young people or those seeking a career change aren’t aware that the profession exists, then they cannot seek it out. That means a lot of talent and innovation will go elsewhere. And that’s the other reason for promoting the profession — to secure a steady and intergenerational stream of talent and innovation for the proposal management profession and future leaders for APMP.
What opportunities do you see for APMP members to engage with students and new professionals?
Neil: Students want insights into what they will face when they get out of the university. APMP members can help students see opportunities they never knew existed by connecting with their alma maters as a resource. While most universities do not have full technical communication departments, many have courses and even certification programs for business and technical communication. Having professional volunteers support their classes is a benefit to most professors/instructors. I had practitioners share document examples, host class projects from their businesses, lecture about certain aspects of their jobs, judge competitions and sit on panels discussing concepts from class. These volunteers convinced a lot of my students to change majors to our discipline, once they saw how their interests and skills could be used as proposal professionals and technical communicators.
Jody: I’ve had many APMP members approach me on how they can do something similar [to what I’ve done at URI]. Several of them have approached local colleges and universities to no avail. I offer a few suggestions. First, be willing to volunteer your time. My role at URI is voluntary as part of the collaboration between my company and the university, and I’m happy to have it that way. Second, appeal first to the area of the school that concentrates on experiential learning. I’ve learned that many schools see the need to afford students the opportunity for real-world learning before they graduate, and one would hope that they would jump at an opportunity like this. URI has its Business Engagement Center that provides a gateway to industry to access the university’s students and resources; starting at a place like this in your local university could be beneficial. Finally, offer proposal internships, and make those internships “real,” with hands-on proposal work across all aspects of proposal development. When budgets allow, our department does, and several former students who interned for us, including two we hired, went on to proposal professions.
As for connecting with new professionals, the simple answer is to talk with them and listen to them. This is where APMP offers incredible opportunity, beginning with BPC, local chapters and events, etc. [It’s important to remember] that we Boomers and later generations have a lot to offer new professionals, and we can learn a lot from them, too. The different generations that exist within APMP’s growing membership reflect the rich history, evolution and exciting future of our profession, and the more intergenerational conversations that take place, the better.
Jeremy: I see a large opportunity for APMP members to capitalize on the virtual climate we are living in today. Students are constantly on the go, but with the current global pandemic, people have been stuck in the house a lot more than usual. Online chats, webinars, podcasts, etc., are all useful ways to engage with students at their convenience and in a format they are more accustomed to because of the current school situation.
What excites you most about being part of the APMP ICP Committee?
Sonya: I earnestly believe we all have a responsibility to recruit and train the next generation and future generations of proposal managers. The purpose of the committee is to open these pathways. I’m excited to be able to take my work at UNT and help expand it to a national and international scale. Our committee is designed to create tools and opportunities for members, chapters and corporations to promote and recruit bids and proposals as an intentional career path. I can’t wait to see the pathways that this committee creates, and I hope that others will take our resources and run with their own initiatives.
Sunil: If you ask students about their professional aspirations, you generally hear doctor, engineer, lawyer, etc. If you dig deeper, you might also hear human resources, project manager, sales manager, etc., but you never hear bid and proposal manager. Why? Because they don’t know such a profession exists!
We need to get the word out. Every company needs to win business and for that, we need bid management professionals. We can only get good professionals, if we start creating awareness about this career from an early stage and make it an intentional career path for our students. We would love to hear someone say, “I want to become a bid manager when I grow up.”
This article is the third in a series exploring the APMP Intentional Career Path (ICP) Committee’s initiatives, as well as the efforts of individuals and APMP chapters, that are working toward making the bid and proposal profession an intentional career path. Read the other articles in the series: Making Bid and Proposal Management an Intentional Career Path and Getting Started in the Proposal Industry.