FOSE panelists: Government needs new approaches to hiring

A panel of experts agreed that the government must cultivate innovative approaches to managing its workforce to deal with an upsurge in retirements and the pressure to meet performance mandates.

They spoke April 1 at a breakfast seminar on workforce management sponsored by Cisco Systems at the FOSE 2008 conference and expo hosted by Federal Computer Week's parent company, 1105 Government Information Group.

“We have to think in nontraditional ways about the workforce,” said Janet Barnes, chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management and co-chairwoman of the CIO Council’s Information Technology Workforce Committee. “It’s not just hire somebody, bring them in and [have them] work eight hours a day sitting at [their] desk.”

Barnes said OPM’s Career Patterns initiative stresses alternative work arrangements for workers at various stages of their careers. It “challenges people to think differently about how to tap into different segments of the possible workforce,” she said.

“We have some jobs [in government] that may just require a short period of time — three to six months — to do at a fairly senior level, perhaps on an emergency basis, and maybe that [can be] done by someone who’s recently retired, doesn’t want to work a full-time schedule anymore and may want to work from home,” she said. “Why not think about that?”

The panelists also agreed that the government must find ways to meet the expectations of the young generation of technology-savvy workers if it wants to recruit and retain them.

Alan Balutis, director of North American public-sector consulting at Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group and the session’s moderator, said young employees expect agencies to provide the same technology they’re using in their everyday lives, such as wikis, blogs and other collaborative tools.

“They think differently than we do,” said Ronald Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Our leaders struggle with the generation gaps.… Once we bring [young] folks in, we’ve got to deal with generational tensions that will exist in the workplace.”

Barnes said she recently met a young federal worker who had worked in government for two years, during which time she had 14 jobs. “I’ve moved on, moved up and done different things,” the employee told Barnes. “That’s the way I want to work.”

“We have to adapt to make sure we can embrace that and take advantage of it,” Barnes said. “It’s all about changing our boundaries, our cultures and the way we think about them.”

“If we don’t respond to that wanderlust…our young professionals are going to vote with their feet,” Sanders said.

He added that intelligence agencies have developed a program in which upper-level managers are required to enhance their professional experience by working at other agencies. “You have to complete one or more interagency assignments to be promoted to senior rank,” he said. “We’ve built an infrastructure to facilitate movement between our agencies, cutting across Cabinet lines.”

At the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corp., executives focus on successfully integrating new hires into the organizational culture to retain talented employees. “Recruitment doesn’t stop when the person starts the first day,” said Michael Beckmann, director of talent acquisition at Freddie Mac. “Recruitment extends itself through the first 18 months of employment. With us, assimilation is a celebration.”

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