By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

The Lectern: Fresh thinking on recruiting contract professionals

Karen Pica, head of the Federal Acquisition Institute (FAI), gave a fascinating presentation at the Executive Leadership Conference (probably the largest government IT conference each year) in Williamsburg earlier this week, talking about efforts the government is undertaking to increase its ability to recruit a new generation of entry-level, recent college grad contracting professionals.
FAI, in cooperation with the Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Office of Personnel Management, started by holding focus groups of newly hired contracting professionals, to find out about what kinds of activities new contracting professionals found most-appealing about jobs in government contracting.

Based on the focus groups, they developed a list of five activities (such as negotiating or applying business skills) that these young people found most attractive. Then, based on this list, the government has now revised job descriptions for entry-level contracting jobs.  Instead of beginning with such turn-off phrases as "Incumbent shall" and pages of incomprehensible government-speak, the job announcements begin with phrases such as, "Do you like to negotiate?" that describe things contracting professionals do.
The group also decided that, given that it was unlikely that new college grads had had much experience undertaking activities typical for the job of a contract specialist, it was unnecessary for applicants to fill out lengthy essays on "knowledge, skills, and abilities" that turn many federal job applications into major essay contests.
In her presentation, Pica made a really interesting point about the potential attractiveness of government contracting jobs for young people who would like to try many different activities during their careers.  If you think about contracting jobs from the perspective of the varying missions contracting supports -- from homeland security to national parks to social services -- then it is possible for a person to stay in contracting but to experience support for many missions, all the while not losing seniority or benefits because the individual stays inside the federal government, though at different agencies. Good point, and one that I think will appeal to many young people.
Karen and her colleagues deserve kudos for thinking in an innovative way about recruiting techniques.  It was inspiring to listen to her presentation at Williamsburg.
The problem remains, however, of retaining new recruits once they come on the job. If young people come into the contracting environment created by the fear industry, centered around rules, compliance, and "gotcha," it is highly questionable whether many will stay.  This is the paradox for the members of Congress who talk about upgrading the status and situation of contracting professionals, while contributing to an environment that makes the field less attractive for people to enter or stay in.

What do you think? Post a comment on this blog or send an e-mail to (subject: Kelman) and we will post it for you.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Oct 30, 2008 at 12:10 PM


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