The Office of Personnel Management is taking a more proactive approach to help agencies tap into the tools they already have and find new talent outside the Beltway.
The agency is set to officially launch the Hiring Excellence Campaign in January 2016. Though not a new mandate, OPM will work directly with agency hiring managers and human resources staff to help them identify skills gaps and find and recruit the right professionals to fill them.
“What we want to do is find a way to communicate what is possible within the existing rules; how do you get people going and how do you get this partnership with HR and the people who have the jobs working together,” said Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert, during a Nov. 18 National Council on Federal Labor Management Relations meeting in Washington. “We see that there’s a lot of opportunity to do that. The myth of what you can and can’t do in the process has gotten convoluted a bit over time.”
The agency recently launched a Hiring Toolkit on HR University, which includes guidance on the authorities, assessments and data hiring managers already have. But beyond the online tools, OPM is taking more of a “door-to-door” approach to its outreach next year.
“We’re going to be going out on the road,” said Cobert who is awaiting Senate confirmation to be OPM’s permanent director. “Most of the people the federal government hires do not sit in Washington, D.C. We have to go find the people where they are and where the hiring managers are and bring those tools up there.”
OPM will also continue its work on USAJobs.gov. Kimberly Holden, deputy associate director for recruitment and hiring services at OPM, said the agency rolled out different iterations of USAJobs in July and will continue through fiscal 2017.
Focusing attention, reducing frustration
Ahead of the January launch, OPM is meeting with HR managers and focus groups at different agencies across the U.S. It will conduct pilot-like programs with managers at the Social Security Administration in Baltimore and hold another meeting with Federal Executive Board focus group members in Los Angeles in the next two months.
After speaking with other agencies, OPM is focusing its hiring efforts on a few specific areas that need the most attention. Holden said OPM is putting an emphasis on recruiting new cybersecurity and IT management experts — fields where agencies have commonly lacked the professionals and talent to meet their evolving needs.
“We’ve learned from our management satisfaction survey that the overall quality of the hires in the IT area is low, and we also need to figure out a better way to assess applicants to determine whether they actually have the right skills to do the job,” Holden said.
The time it takes for agencies to identify — and then hire — new employees is a concern OPM said it’s still trying to tackle.
Bill Dougan, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees, said he often sees talented professionals, frustrated by the government hiring process, walk away to take a job in the private sector.
“These people are not going to be willing to sit around for 4, 5 or 6 months or longer held in limbo as to whether they have a job with the government,” Dougan said. “They’re going to go elsewhere.”
OPM has and will continue to work on making its job descriptions more clear and concise so that they draw the right kinds of applicants, Holden said.
“For a hiring manager, once they know that they have a position to fill, that position description is already classified,” she said. “That they know immediately where their talent pool resides, so that they don’t have to think about, ‘well, maybe I’ll advertise the vacancy this way or that way.’ They know where to go with regard to finding their talent pool and also understand the recruitment tools they have in place to find their talent.”
Cobert recently emphasized recruitment and hiring as a major action item for OPM and government at large. Individual agencies, like the Homeland Security Department, are taking advantage of specialized hiring authorities to fill cybersecurity and digital services positions.
OPM’s inspector general cited recruitment and hiring as a top management challenge in 2015.