Leidinger: Recruit creatively

Recruiting new workers to government must be a top priority for federal executives

Federal agencies now face major recruiting challenges. How can they win the increasingly competitive war for talent? How can they streamline hiring to attract a new generation of workers to public service? And how can they become an employer of first choice for more first-time job seekers?

Today, the stakes for agencies couldn’t be higher. As baby boomers prepare to retire from government in record numbers — half the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement by 2010 — the government is fighting an increasingly labor-intensive war on terrorism. The Defense and Homeland Security departments will hire 150,000 employees in the coming years to support an expanding array of defense and homeland security needs. Meanwhile, at the recent swearing-in of the new director of national intelligence, President Bush challenged the intelligence community to diversify its recruiting efforts and hire more people with the language skills and cultural backgrounds needed to fight the war on terrorism.

So what’s necessary to attract a new generation to federal careers?

Recruit creatively. A recent Gallup survey found that some federal agencies, such as the CIA, are much better known to the public than others. It also found that even some well-known agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Postal Service, face difficult recruiting challenges.

With those challenges, all federal agencies must have extensive, detailed workforce planning to support their strategic plans, use commercial branding and marketing techniques to target new hires and sell them on their agency’s mission, and entice recruits with fast-track career opportunities.
Agencies need to go where new hires are — college campuses, rock concerts, sporting events and the Internet — to recruit the next generation of government workers.

The agencies should also consider hiring middle-aged professionals who can bring maturity and life experience to government service. The Partnership for Public Service said many baby boomers now retiring from private-sector careers are prime candidates for second careers in the government.

To meet their goals, agencies must redesign their hiring processes. Everyone knows that federal hiring procedures are time-consuming and dehumanizing. In 2004, when I was chief human capital officer at the Education Department, we cut the steps required to hire new employees from 114 to 53. How? By redesigning the hiring process. We brought human resources professionals and line managers together at the beginning of recruitment cycles to identify crucial skill requirements, craft job descriptions, develop recruiting procedures and agree on hiring criteria. Other agencies must do the same.

Finally, agencies must adopt private-sector practices to attract top talent.
Today’s debate in government about telework provides a case in point.

Telecommuting is a common practice in industry. It’s a lure that private-sector employers use to attract new hires. Unless government begins to embrace more private-sector work practices, including telework, performance-based pay and programs to get new employees quickly up to speed, it will have a hard time competing with the private sector for top talent.

Leidinger is a  former assistant secretary for management and chief human capital officer at the Education Department. He can be reached at wleidinger@msn.com.

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