Agencies see ‘workforce reshaping’ as opportunity for professional development, not necessarily RIFs

The Trump administration's push to reorganize government and reshape the federal workforce is prompting agencies to think about the work they do and the skills ...

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For many agencies, “workforce reshaping” doesn’t immediately translate to reductions-in-force or early buyouts. Instead, it means taking a hard look at the work their agencies will do in the future and the skills their current employees will need to accomplish that work.

It’s what many agencies — large and small — have spent the past year doing as they prepare to implement reform plans and meet the Trump administration’s demand to become leaner government organizations.

The Naval Air Systems Command, for example, is borrowing “agile,” a term commonly used to describe a best practice in IT development, to apply to its workforce.

“Once you look at what you have to produce … who can help us get there? How are we planning our work? What money do we have to pay for that work?”Jessica Lynch,  director of human capital strategy and management for logistics and industrial operations for the Naval Air Systems Command, said Monday during the Human Capital Management for Government Conference in Arlington, Virginia. “You start to see some gaps, and you start to see some surpluses. That’s where you want to be agile. Where can we move people around? Where can we address the actual work that needs to be done?”

The Education Department has a similar mentality. Education’s Federal Student Aid Office is in the middle of reviewing its mission critical occupations, skills and competencies.

“The work has changed over time — not just how we do the work but also who we are working with in order to accomplish the work,” said Quasette Crowner, FSA’s chief administration officer. “But we are finding that a lot of the skills are not your hard-line technical skills. Things like critical thinking, one of the things that we have really been trying to focus on.”

Loan analysts, accountants and contract and project managers, are mission critical occupations at the Federal Student Aid Office.

Though Crowner said her agency isn’t expecting further or major budget cuts in fiscal 2018 and 2019, she doesn’t expect she’ll be able to hire many more talented professionals to fill those positions.

“Our real challenge is where we know we are losing critical resources and skills,” she said. “We now need to look at — if we can’t do a bunch of hiring — how do we re-deploy resources from one part of the organization to another?”

The Naval Air Systems Command has been looking at each occupation within the agency, but Lynch said she’s been careful to stovepipe her employees to one kind of work. A logistics employee may have a background in another kind of work.

“A lot of the times, we’re so focused on what’s happening now with our workforce,” she said. “We have an employee ‘X,’ who needs to do job ‘Y’ and they need skills ‘Z.’ That’s for now. We need to be looking forward for our employees, just like we are with the budget. That’s something that we don’t necessarily do all the time. We need to be looking at what are the skills of the future, what are going to be the staffing needs of the future, what are going to be the products of the future and start focusing forward and planning forward — not necessarily for today.”

Like some agencies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is knee-deep in transitioning much of its transactional HR work to a shared services provider.

NOAA is one year into a three-year push to adopt enterprise HR services at the Commerce Department. Commerce is now handling personnel action requests for all of its bureaus, and it will soon take on compensation and benefits, as well as staffing work in fiscal 2019.

NOAA, along with other Commerce bureaus, is beginning to focus more on strategy, policy and consulting work. Many NOAA employees who once handled process-heavy HR work are beginning to learn the skills they need for new, policy and consulting-focused positions.

“It was a big change for our staff, and actually, it’s a change that they like,” said Kim Bauhs, director of NOAA’s workforce management office. “They’re finally getting time to have the conversations with the managers that they’ve always wanted to have, to think more strategically. Instead of just throwing this job back up, can we talk about the best way to find you the right talent?”

As part of the training process, NOAA is guiding its HR employees step-by-step through a sample consulting project to teach prospective HR specialists about this new work.

“We spent a lot of time working with them, just trying to socialize them with what this new role looks like and how they can approach it and how they can be successful,” she said.

FSA employees have also shown an interest in taking on a different kind of work, and Crowner said she’s thinking about how she can help those employees develop the soft skills they need for a new position.

“Those are some of the things that we are challenged with,” she said. “We can have a great loan analyst, but if you are unable to complete the deal in working with the customer because of some of those other skills that are not as measurable, then we still don’t have the right fit. However, that employee, that resource, is still very valuable to us.”

The Office of Personnel Management said it’s here to help.

Like all agencies, OPM has been looking at its own activities and priorities ahead of the administration’s reorganization, acting Director Kathleen McGettigan said.

OPM has spent the past year gathering and updating current information to create a “workforce reshaping” website. It’s also issued new performance management and succession planning guidance, and more is coming.

The quadrennial federal workforce review, which will describe governmentwide human capital priorities and strategies to enforce them, is under final review and should be out in the “near future,” McGettigan said.

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