SSA union’s emergency funding only goes so far when competing with private sector flexibility

The American Federation of Government Employees Council 220, which represents Social Security Administration employees who work in field offices and teleservice centers, is asking Congress for $16.5 billion in “emergency funding,” half of which would go toward rebuilding an agency workforce that is at a 25-year low. Setting aside whether or not the funding request is approved, it’s clear that staffing problems at SSA, like many federal agencies, have reached a critical point and won’t be resolved anytime soon without creating flexible work policies to compete with the private sector.

In the new distributed workplace economy, the SSA, IRS, Federal Deposit Insurance Company, Securities and Exchange Commission, Export-Import Bank and others are competing for talent in a financial services industry that is known for both its ability to capitalize on incremental improvements in efficiency and having the money required to invest in the technology necessary to achieve those gains.

There is no way those agencies will ever be able to successfully attract and hire top talent using the government’s current suite of antiquated business processes and custom coded software. Exclusionary selection processes that over emphasize resumes and government specific, crystalized skills, coupled with weeks to months long hiring processes that provide applicants with little to no communication from the time they apply to the time they interview are the root cause of tens of thousands of vacancies.

By contrast, agencies like the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Space Force have experienced substantial improvements in quality and diversity of new hires, as well as speed of hiring and improved candidate experience, by implementing commercial-off-the-shelf software (COTS) and commercial best practices for hiring that enables them to compete with industry in the race for talent.

Agencies can take these four steps to improve how they recruit and retain key expertise:

  • Make every job that can possibly be done remotely a remote work position to allow the best qualified people from rural towns or big cities anywhere in the country to apply.
  • Implement commercial best practices and COTS systems that automate hiring and selection processes to reduce the total time from application to selection from weeks to days and dramatically improve the candidate experience by engaging applicants continuously throughout the process.
  • Replace biased resume screening with competency-based assessments that focus on general competencies required for successful job performance, upward mobility and retention versus narrowly defined skills that can only be obtained in government and become obsolete over time.
  • Expand the number and types of people that can participate in the interview process by implementing on-demand, web and mobile enabled interviews that allow candidates to interview when and where it is most convenient for them 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.

An aging workforce reaching retirement en-masse and the need to usher in a new generation of mission focused talent that expects more of their employers makes the Social Security Administration’s situation acute. However, the SSA’s situation is far from unique. Remote work and flexible work schedules are here to stay, and the competition for talent, especially in well-heeled industries like technology, health care and financial services, is going to continue to be fierce for several more years. Implementing flexible work environments and best of breed commercial processes and technology for hiring is the only way federal agencies have even a chance of attracting, hiring or retaining top talent.

Joe Paiva is chairman of the Cybernomic Warfare Institute and a strategic advisor to several software companies, including HireVue, Inc., and Chelsea Kilpack, is the senior global communications manager at HireVue.


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