By Steve Kelman

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New federal hires want meaningful work

A few days ago, I took part in a conference panel at an event Acquisition Solutions presented. I addressed the importance, and the challenges, of providing challenging jobs to new, young contracting employees in the government.

Later, five young people, newly-hired and participating in "internship" programs (they really didn't like that word -- for their friends outside government, it implied non-paying student jobs) at two federal agencies, came up to me to talk. I invited them to sit down with me at lunch, and we had an interesting conversation.
The internship programs involve rotations across different offices in their agencies. The young feds told me that the challenges and quality of the work they are being given has varied widely. In some places, they have had interesting assignments, in others they are just sitting around -- sometimes literally with no assigned work at all.

Needless to say, any instance these young people experience where they are not given work sends a terrible signal to them about expectations of federal employees. It's particularly weird given that contracting offices are said to be overwhelmed with work. In other cases, the new hires are getting clerical work, including, in one instance, punching holes in papers to create a binder.

They all said they want to be challenged beyond their current abilities, not given assignments below their abilities.
I asked them about the best supervisor they have had, and what made that person the best. They all agreed that their best supervisor was the one most open to answering their questions. "For a good supervisor, there's no such thing as a dumb question," one of them said to me.  "Even if I ask about what does an acronym mean, it's because I don't know and need to know."  Another said that their best supervisor had let them attend some meetings with higher-level people in the organization, so they could get a bigger picture of how the organization works. 
I asked them whether their organizations did anything to encourage them to understand the link between their acquisition jobs and the mission of the organization. Most of them said that this had indeed occurred.

One of the new hires said the office staff had been able to visit a site using equipment the office was buying, and said this was really positive and inspirational.  Another told of an example where the supervisor explained how what was being bought would contribute to an important national security goal, and also said this really made the assignment a much more meaningful one.  However, all of them said they didn't feel enough connection with their organization's mission, and a few said they were looking for opportunities to work in a program office rather than contracting.  (At least, they'd be staying in the government.)
Let's keep this dialogue going.


Posted by Steve Kelman on May 21, 2010 at 12:08 PM


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