Building the future work force
- By George I. Seffers
- Jun 19, 2000
When the Pentagon tasks you with drafting a detailed blueprint for how to
recruit and retain the future acquisition work force, it helps to be a multifaceted
Keith Charles, the head of the new Pentagon Future Workforce Task Force,
knows about multitasking and hard work. Home construction is his hobby,
and he has the drill-induced scars on his left thumb to prove it.
Charles talks almost as passionately about retiling bathrooms as he
does about work force issues. Although Charles owns two homes now, at one
point he owned 18, renovating them all and dozens of others.
Charles wears two hats in the Pentagon — director of acquisition, technology
and logistics work force management, and acting director of acquisition
education, training and career development. As head of the task force, he
will help the Pentagon make the future work force more flexible, with employees
having a variety of technical, managerial, and leadership skills. "People
are overseeing a lot more work now, and they will need skills in more than
one function," Charles said. "We don't want people to be a jack-of-all-trades
and master of none, but we do want them to be very good at several."
Finding these people won't be easy. Like the rest of the government,
the Pentagon is finding it difficult to recruit new workers in today's highly
competitive job market. Up to 50 percent of the Pentagon's work force will
be eligible to retire within the next five years. The potential exodus comes
after a decade of downsizing, which reduced the acquisition work force by
"We could be taking an unprecedented number of workers out of the market
at the same time we're bringing unprecedented low numbers back into the
work force. That's a huge drop, and it's a major problem not just for defense
but for the entire federal government," Charles said.
The task force's mission is twofold. First, it must report to the Pentagon
every possible legal solution to its recruiting and retention problem. Second,
it must report possible solutions that would require legislative changes.
The blueprint is due to the Pentagon at the end of July.
Charles' job is a daunting one. "I think it's pretty clear government
is not the employer of choice," said Albert Robbert, a work force analyst
with the think tank RAND. "College graduates anticipate that government
jobs will pay less and the work may not be exciting, partly because government
workers have been disparaged by politicians."
The task force is considering altering the civilian work force evaluation
process to include ratings in six broad areas: problem solving, teamwork
and cooperation, customer relations, leadership and supervision, communication
and resource management. Workers will need to receive a satisfactory rating
in each category in order to advance. Each area would be broken down into
specific job skills, such as technical credibility, flexibility, decisiveness,
resilience, strategic thinking and creativity. Recruiting and retaining
senior management-level information technology workers is the toughest challenge
in hammering out the Pentagon plan, Charles said. "Every time we better
an offer, the IT industry will turn around and double that counter offer."
The Pentagon cannot compete with private-sector salaries but may be
able to offer a number of other advantages, he said. For one thing, DOD
experience often makes IT professionals even more valuable to commercial
employers. The military could take advantage of that by making it easier
to apply military experience in the commercial sector or commercial experience
in the military.
Because military workers are often given greater responsibility than
their commercial-sector counterparts, DOD is considering an exchange program
under which commercial workers work for the military for a number of years,
gaining experience that could earn them even higher salaries upon their
return to the commercial sector. "We want to create a revolving door at
the journeyman level that would give us not only a free exchange of ideas
and information but would give the employee more experience and make him
more valuable to his company than if he had stayed in the private sector
the whole time," Charles said.
Although the Pentagon needs to recruit at all levels, Charles said it
is particularly noncompetitive at the journeyman and senior management levels.
Other options for retaining a qualified future work force may include
such things as flexible work hours, better day care arrangements, telecommuting,
more time off and job sharing.
What's more, military supervisors need greater authority and flexibility
in what they can offer employees. When someone considers leaving DOD, salary
caps often prevent supervisors from offering more money as an incentive
to stay. "That is a bankrupt human resource strategy. We have to start investing
in human capital if we're going to attract the best workers," Charles said.