Fed employees can test career skills online

A new system developed by the Office of Personnel Management would let federal employees and those who want to work for the government evaluate their skills and identify job opportunities in government agencies.

Launched late last month USA Careers (www.usacareers.opm.gov) offers users online tests to assess their basic skills find training courses to improve those skills learn about the types of jobs different agencies offer and locate vacancies. Agencies also can install a PC-based version of the software that can be configured with links to internal human resources systems.

Planned improvements to the system would make it useful to federal managers as well said Phong Ngo OPM project manager. OPM is working on applications that managers can use to learn the overall strengths and weaknesses of their work force and help employees choose the right training programs.

Mary Ann Maloney an OPM spokeswoman said that as the number of federal employees shrinks agencies are looking for ways to more easily distribute information about job skills and other occupational data. USA Careers ties together numerous OPM and agency databases that contain this information some of which is new and some of which has previously been available only to agency personnel officials.

"I think it's going to help employees to be able to access job information " said Jeff Sumberg director of field services with the American Federation of Government Employees. "Anything OPM can do to make it easier for employees in one agency to learn about opportunities in another will be helpful."

All-Around Evaluation

One feature lets employees rate themselves on how well they perform basic tasks such as operating a computer or processing documents.

A "360-degree assessment" lets users designate supervisors co-workers and subordinates to rate them as well and the applications display graphs that illustrate how much certain skills should be improved.

Employees can also take tests - formerly given only on paper - to assess basic skills such as reading comprehension and mathematical reasoning. The system provides the user with an instant score.

The results as well as answers to online questionnaires and other personal information are protected by passwords so the data cannot be read by others. Ngo said OPM soon will move the application to a secure server that will encrypt information passed over the Internet.

Another feature OPM is considering is an online "resume builder " Ngo said. The resume builder would help employees incorporate the information they get from other system modules into their resumes. The information would need to be edited he said but the application would give users "a head start" in crafting their resumes.

The system runs on a Microsoft Corp. Windows NT platform and uses SQL databases. By November OPM plans to release an upgrade to the PC version of the application that can run either on a single stand-alone machine or on a local-area network. That upgrade will include several enhancements such as the ability for users to keep track of the training courses they take and the requirements they need to meet to be promoted.

So far the main user of the system has been the Energy Department one of seven agencies that contributed to its development. Officials there could not be reached for comment.

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