OPM looks to improve training, fix skills gap

The Trump administration's human resources strategy includes tasking agencies with better use of data and revising organizational structures.

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As the Trump administration continues efforts to shrink and reorganize the federal workforce, the Office of Personnel Management found the most common human capital challenges are insufficient training and low staffing levels.

OPM's 2018 Workforce Priorities Report identifies six top priorities "designed to support the administration's initiatives to reshape the workforce and maximize employee performance" by reviewing the top challenges identified in inspectors general reports and from the Government Accountability Office's high-risk list.

They are: succession planning and knowledge transfer; deploying communication tools; securing tech solutions for human capital analysis; expanding employee development opportunities; bolstering employee recognition programs; and enhancing productivity through focus on employee health.

To achieve proposed workforce reductions, the quadrennial report directs agencies to use agency data to determine appropriate staffing levels, to examine total personnel costs, to review and revise organizational structures and to review job roles as they become vacant.

CFO Act agencies are tasked with drilling in on two priorities, according to a memo addressed to agency human resources directors from OPM associate director of employee services Mark Reinhold.

In a review of oversight reports, OPM found that the 59 percent of GAO's high-risk list areas — and 38 percent of IGs' management challenges — referenced human capital issues and needs, specifically training and staffing levels.

"According to the reports we reviewed," OPM stated, 21 of 24 CFO Act agencies encountered challenges with training, and 20 of 24 encountered challenges with staffing levels.

The forthcoming President's Management Agenda will focus on effective program management and favor mission achievement over compliance while holding agencies accountable for improving performance.

"Further information on the administration's government-wide priorities will become available with the issuance of the [President's Management Agenda] and Cross-Agency Priority Goals in February 2018," the report states.

The reports comes as the White House's fiscal year 2019 budget — which may include a civilian pay freeze — is expected to be released Feb. 12.

Given the climate of budget cuts and shrinking the workforce, Kristine Simmons, Vice-President of Government Affairs at the Partnership for Public Service, said that making sure employees are well trained and focusing on their performance is critical to agency success, especially considering their added responsibilities.

"As workforce reshaping is a priority, understanding how you can hang on to the knowledge seasoned employees have and making sure it is captured and passed on the future generations" could not be more important, she said.

The report also includes major trends shaping the workforce that includes the role of tech in potentially replacing certain duties and in recruiting and connecting the workforce.

"In the near term, technology does not pose a threat of fully replacing many occupations," the report states. However, it notes this could well change in the future, and suggests organizations prepare by cultivating employees' soft skills and allowing for technological experimentation.

Another frontier opened by technology is the use of online platforms to conduct recruitment efforts, and to share information more quickly across government.

One area not included in the report worth noting, Simmons said, is the importance of leadership in carrying out missions.

"The number one driver for employee performance tends to be their leadership," she said. "I did not see an emphasis in this particular report on the need to invest in leaders and managers to enable them to… manage what could be significant transformation."

The report does state that "The primary reason [employees] leave a job is directly related to their relationship with their boss," and notes the importance of inclusive, ethical leadership and positive feedback.

NEXT STORY: Trump names new ethics chief

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