The winds in Washington may have shifted since last winter. But while budget pressures and Potomac politics may force “hard choices,” opportunities for step-by-step improvements give reason for optimism.
Two big issues remain on the table:
- Taking advantage of an upsurge of interest in federal employment
- Ensuring a pipeline of qualified candidates to replace the massive retirements which sooner or later will decimate government managerial ranks
#1: The forecast for government employment is still hot (and maybe cool)
Double-digit unemployment and high underemployment have joined with Gen Y’s response to a national Call to Serve. As a result, large numbers of candidates are applying for jobs. This unique situation generates challenges and opportunities at each stage of the hiring process:
Recruitment: Getting your share of the surge. Most job seekers lack awareness of all but a few government employers and, even then, they may be hazy on the agency’s mission. Those “dream employers,” often buoyed by fame in the media, rank high in the surveys of ideal places to work like the Universum undergrad survey of ideal employers. Meanwhile, the vast majority of federal agencies still lack awareness to take advantage of the current surge in interest. OPM is encouraging agencies to develop employer brands, making their specific advantages known in the career marketplace. It helps to remember that all agencies can tout the so-called “table stakes,” i.e., job availability and security.
Hiring process: Speed it up. The heat will be on to accelerate hiring processes that stretch into three months or more, leading top candidates to go elsewhere. After scrutinizing process issues for five months, OPM told Federal Times in late November that resumes sitting on desks created the major bottlenecks, which in turn is caused by time management issues among hiring managers. The surge has compounded the problem. Some HR professionals despair about finding the right candidates amidst mounting applications, which contain a high ratio of those lacking requisite skills sets. OPM director John Berry is determined to reverse this long-term problem quickly. For example, last June he described the structure of OPM as confusing. In January, he announced OPM’s new streamlined restructure, putting guidance and help closer to agencies. Meanwhile look for more workarounds to get the right people in place faster: direct hire authority, efforts to replace KSAs with private-sector style resumes, a move towards anticipatory hiring, i.e., hiring before vacancies are available.
Retention: Keeping new employees engaged. All agencies will need to turn the “hot” interest into government being “cool,” i.e., employee retention after the economy thaws. In 2010, agencies will be examining this issue on several fronts: attracting the right people from the beginning and ensuring job satisfaction. The Partnership for Public Service’s Guide, which TMP helped prepare, can show you how to work with your present employee survey scores to improve engagement.
Come back later this week for Preparing a pipeline: A civil government ROTC.