Fix the people doing the hiring, not the process

The Office of Personnel Management is seeking an executive to lead its Hiring Experience Group as the Biden administration becomes the fourth White House to try...

The Biden administration is deep into the fourth White House driven effort to improve the hiring process. Just last week, the Office of Personnel Management released a job announcement for a program manager to lead its new Hiring Experience Group.

This GS-15 executive will “provide leadership and guidance on governmentwide strategies, policies and operational practices in this space with a focus on agile delivery and human centered design to improve the hiring experience for applicants, hiring managers and human resources professionals. Working across policy, technology and operational groups, you will drive improvements to recruitment, assessments, and pooled hiring efforts leading to better hiring outcomes across government.”

This person would build on the talent teams and workforce strategies agencies have been working on for more than a year.

Feels like Groundhog Day all over again.

The administration of President George W. Bush made hiring a key component of its HR scorecard where it made goals of closing gaps in mission critical occupations and reducing the average time to hire someone into federal service based on the 45-day model.

The administration of President Barack Obama focused on reducing the time to hire to less than 80 days and pushing for continuous improvements.

And finally, the administration of President Donald Trump tried to get agencies to rethink what qualifies a candidate for a job and tried to ramp back up the internship programs like Pathways.

To borrow from the Jewish holiday of Passover, why is this hiring initiative different than all other hiring initiatives? Agencies definitely are not leaning to the left and reclining as they try to “fix” the federal hiring process, once again.

What new employees want

The better question, of course, is what if the federal hiring process isn’t the problem, but it’s something else, like, maybe, the people using the process?

As one agency chief human capital officer told me what the incoming workforce, both early, mid and late-career workers, want is an inspiring mission first and foremost, and then a close second is the assurance that the agency will invest in their career, through training and through opportunities for advancement. Finally, third on this list is a solid work-life balance.

“We need to have a learning portfolio for all agencies and all jobs,” the CHCO said, who requested anonymity because they didn’t get permission to speak to the press. “Since the first sequestration in 2013, we really never got back to balance on training. It’s not good to miss out of soft skills as well as core business skills. The Defense Acquisition University should be model for core government functions.”

Federal employees have opportunities for training, though fewer than before. OPM shut down HR University in September 2018, leaving the Federal Executive Institute, the Federal Acquisition Institute and a host of private sector training services.

But there isn’t one that offers employees a constant refresh on policy analysis or working with Congress, or whatever the latest and greatest public policy issues are emerging.

Interior’s career platform

The Interior Department recognized this problem several years ago and created the DOI Career Platform.

Dr. Liz Koman, an industrial and organizational (IO) psychologist in Interior’s department of human capital, said at a recent event sponsored by the Alliance for Digital Innovation (ADI) that lets employees find and apply for jobs, internships or short or long-term details. It lets hiring managers recruit from a diverse pool of talent and work with employees to ensure they have the right competences and training to advance in their career.

“Employees asked for these tools. We know our employees are using the map of occupations to look for opportunities to move within DOI and we know prospective employees are looking to mine for different job opportunities,” Koman said. “We average 2,000 visitors every day to site, while our previous site saw 2,000 visitors in a year.”

The platform includes 300 occupational series and data that shows what percentage of people with specific skillsets are coming to those occupations so employees looking for a new role can more easily see where they fit into any occupation.

“If you are going into IT, you may see 20% coming from program or project management or 25% coming from human resources. You can see what skills transfer and where gaps may exist, and those competence are mapped to courses in our learning management system (LMS),” Koman said. “Our future state of the career tool is one that users can see where their individual gaps are and train up on skills they need to make career change.”

Federal HR experts say among the biggest reasons for why employees leave, according to exit surveys, is because they don’t see a future for themselves at the agency.

Landon Mock, the director of strategic talent management in Interior’s department of human capital, said the agency is trying to get back to developing and demonstrating career ladders to grow and train current employees.

“Other ways we trying to incorporate technology to solve that problem is with tools from OPM through to do more with resume mining, by using agency talent portal and pairing those with hiring authorities,” Mock said. “If you are hiring GS-13 geologist, you can search the talent portal, mine for resumes, see how is it in the location you are hiring for, or if it’s not bound by location, then you reach out to candidates to apply. With so many hiring authorities, you can bring people on more quickly. It’s about syncing up different solutions together to source potential recruits and leverage current flexibilities.”

Four dozen hiring flexibilities

And agencies have so many flexibilities to also reduce the time to hire. Mock said there are more than four dozen different hiring authorities that already exist.

That, in and of itself, is demonstrates why the hiring process isn’t necessarily broken. Managers can hire quickly if they take the time and put in the effort.

But as Mock said, “A lot of times we depend on the ‘post and pray’ method. We post to USAJobs and hope for the best. There isn’t as much active recruitment or strategic focus on what hiring authorities to bring people in quickly. We need to figure out how to educate and inform hiring managers on what flexibilities they have and making good use of those.”

Yes, train hiring managers, give HR offices more resources and stop trying to fix a process that, while it can be slow and cumbersome, has shown time and again it can work with the right people pulling the levers.

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