OPM banks on data to attract younger, more diverse job seekers

The Office of Personnel Management’s new recruitment and retention strategy isn’t exactly new, but it is an acknowledgement of some long-standing issues that have bedeviled the federal government.

The strategy, nicknamed REDI for “Recruitment, Engagement, Diversity and Inclusion,” depends on federal managers’ abilities to analyze and act upon data to make decisions, from hiring the right person to giving them opportunities to move up the ranks.

“The REDI plan is really based on data. It’s not about how I feel, who should be there, my emotions,” said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta at a media briefing. “It’s, ‘Does what I think really match up with what the data is showing us?'”

OPM Director Katherine Archuleta (photo by Emily Kopp)

In addition, OPM hopes to help agencies “untie hiring knots” through training and one-on-one assistance, Archuleta said.

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It also is putting digital tools, such as a new version of USAJobs.gov, front and center as a way to “reach folks with a 20-second attention span,” she said.

Data

As an example of that data, Archuleta pointed out that four in 10 federal employees will be eligible to retire in the next five years. Who will take their place remains the big question.

“One of the places we’ll find them is among the millennials, and that’s why I’ve had so many conversations with young people about this strategy,” Archuleta said.

The federal government is largely white and male, a disparity that grows at the higher levels. The REDI plan emphasizes diversity, both racially and geographically.

“We need to make sure we’re reaching out in a strategic, data-driven way,” she said. “Where are those STEM candidates? Where are those women? Where are those veterans?”

“Where are the minority-serving institutions? What are they doing? What do their curriculums look like? We’re using that information to inform the recruitment efforts across the government,” she continued.

But 70 percent of jobs advertised on USAJobs.gov — the government’s main hiring portal — go to internal candidates, Archuleta later said, a data point that indicates some of the challenges any diversity strategy will have.

Another data point that concerns OPM is that those coveted millennials stick around for an average of four years. The REDI strategy addresses the retention issue by focusing on engagement. All senior executives in the government can see how their office stacks up against others through UnlockTalent.gov, an online dashboard based on data points from the annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey.

OPM sends teams to help agencies through their “unique” hiring problems

In addition to the reliance on data, OPM is sending teams to agencies to help them “untie hiring knots around hiring practices, salary flexibilities and other policies and procedures,” Archuleta said.

“We’re saying, ‘Let’s help you fix the situation and let’s train you,'” she said.

She clumped the knots into three broad categories.

First, the various laws, regulations and merit system principles can confound hiring managers.

Second, OPM’s own policies and practices might be getting in the way of a smooth hiring process. The agency is taking a look at itself, she said.

The third category of barriers she described as “the myths.” For example, agencies might be under the mistaken impression that they need OPM’s permission to use a hiring preference when they do not.

So far, OPM has sent a team to help the National Park Service diversify its parks staff by targeting ads to certain universities. OPM is walking another agency through the confusing mix of hiring preferences, schedules and other tools that are intended to allow managers to select certain candidates, such as uniquely qualified experts or veterans, but can also make it hard to have a fair, open competition that elicits applications from a diverse group of job seekers.

“OPM wants to be the central hub for innovative tools and support,” she said.

USAJobs.gov rolls out changes beginning in May

A recent study shows that only 8.8 percent of students used USAJobs.gov to find job announcements. They’re much more likely to turn to mainstream competitors, such as LinkedIn or Career Builder.

When Archuleta traveled to colleges throughout the country, she said the federal hiring portal was the biggest issue students brought to her attention.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Tracy Orrison, the deputy program manager of USAJobs. “The technology and user needs have changed over time and USAJobs.gov hasn’t kept pace.

The new site will be more user friendly, with short tutorials written in plain English, Archuleta said. It also will be more high tech. Programmers showed off forthcoming data visualization tools. For job seekers, there will be maps indicating where most federal jobs in a given profession are based, the average salary and tenure.

For agencies, there are tools based on surveys of USAJobs.gov users. They quickly sum up the demographics of, say, applicants for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) positions.

Other tools hint at why agencies should make their job announcements simpler. One tool, built on a survey of people who did not complete their applications, breaks down the “abandoners” according to ethnicity, race and experience. They also hint at why so many job seekers give up before completing their applications. “The application process was too complicated,” “I don’t understand if I qualify” and “It takes too long; there are too many essays,” were some of the comments displayed to the media.

But the public won’t see the new changes until May, Archuleta said. And it won’t be a full-scale makeover of the site. OPM plans to roll out new tools every 12 months to incorporate user feedback into subsequent iterations. It expects to implement all of the changes by the end of the year.

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