Attracting midcareer workers to be feds

Feds will struggle to replace senior-level employees as they leave, says a new report.

Partnership for Public Service report on mid-career hiring [PDF]

Federal officials will struggle to replenish agencies with senior-

level employees after an impending shortfall caused by retirements, according to a new report from the Partnership for Public Service.

The report, issued earlier this month, found that although hiring from outside the government is a valued practice, federal officials still have not succeeded in marketing government jobs to the public.

The problem may be magnified in the information technology workforce. Partnership for Public Service analysts predict that as waves of federal workers retire in the near future, the ranks of midcareer employees will suffer the most.

"All these issues are only more pronounced in the IT field,"

said Max Stier, president of the partnership. "It's one of those crucial occupations where the federal government's own demand will increase over time. In essence, the problems [in the IT federal workforce] are the same, except larger."

The findings, which update a similar 2002 study, come weeks after the 9-11 Commission's report cited "the FBI's tradition of hiring analysts from within instead of recruiting individuals with relevant educational background and experience" as one reason intelligence agencies were unable to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Nevertheless, the number of midcareer hires from outside government is rising. Partnership officials found that in 2003,

15 percent of nearly 68,000 upper-level employees came from outside government. That's a 5 percent increase from 2002.

Midcareer employees recruited from outside government are valuable because they bring a fresh perspective and boost creativity and ethnic diversity. But for many reasons, ranging from underutilizing recruitment tools to stigmas about civil service, government officials have struggled to find those outsiders, according to the report.

The rules of logic, in some cases, do not apply to hiring trends. For example, the group's 2004 study found that external hires are increasing even though the number of jobs open to those in the private sector has decreased.

But there were some overestimates,

too. For 2001 and 2002, projected retirements of supervisors were about 4 percent higher than actual retirements. Only

in 2003 did actual retirements outstrip the projected numbers. But this is not cause for relief, Stier said.

"The bottom line is that this is at best a problem deferred, not a problem solved," he said.

Experts have identified a hurdle to midcareer hiring: managers' failure to take advantage of policies provided by Congress.

"Often, tools have been there, but agencies have not used them, haven't thought about it or budgeted for them," said Marta Brito Perez, the Office of Personnel Management's associate director of human capital leadership and merit system accountability.

For example, she said, agency officials can pay midcareer employees up to 25 percent of their salaries as a bonus to get them to take the job. The bonus varies by agency, and the employer has to make sure the employee will commit to stay a specific amount of time. But few officials use bonuses as a hiring tool.

The partnership reviewed reforms aimed to increase midcareer hires. And although the challenges of a shrinking upper-level IT workforce loom large, some help appears to be on the way.

The Digital TechCorps Exchange Program, the brainchild of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, was among the most effective reforms, Stier said. A cultural shift needs to accompany these programs, he said.

***

Recruiting the best

Federal officials have many options for increasing the number of midcareer professionals they hire from outside the government, according to a new report by the Partnership for Public Service. The organization recommends that agency officials:

Avoid opening all job vacancies to the public. The study found that increasing the number of jobs available to the public does not always result in more external hires because human resources staff can get swamped and potentially overlook external applicants.

Pinpoint skill gaps that could be filled by an outside applicant.

Dispel the notion that the federal government squelches innovation and entrepreneurialism.

Offer incentives. Sen. George Voinovich (R-Ohio) has proposed giving members of the Senior Executive Service and experienced employees more vacation time.

Help new hires adjust to the federal workforce culture by expanding mentoring and orientation programs.

Use existing programs such as recruitment and relocation bonuses and direct-hire authority for occupations that are specialized and have a critical need. Such flexibilities can also shorten the hiring process.

Source: €Mid-Career Hiring: Revisiting the Search for Seasoned Talent in the Federal Government€

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