Early-career federal job openings seeing ‘renewed and increased’ interest, OPM’s Shriver says

Larger impacts of OPM’s hiring changes are likely further down the road, but early signs are pointing in the right direction for early-career recruitment.

Especially in the federal government, change often happens slowly. But the Office of Personnel Management said it’s seeing early indications that its efforts to reform federal recruitment are starting to pay off.

OPM’s initiatives over the last couple years, such as banning the consideration of salary history, creating a job portal for internship openings, and broadening eligibility for paid internships through the Pathways Program, all aim to open the doors to more candidates and make the hiring process more equitable.

Even though the larger impacts of those changes are likely still further down the road, OPM Acting Director Rob Shriver said signs are pointing in the right direction, especially for OPM’s efforts centered on improving recruitment and retention of younger employees.

“I do think what we’re seeing is a renewed and increased interest in federal job opportunities by early-career talent,” Shriver told Federal News Network Tuesday during an event for federal interns hosted at OPM’s headquarters office.

Tuesday’s event was part of OPM’s intern experience program, now in its second year, which offers resources and hosts events for federal interns interested in pursuing a career in public service. The program aims to support early-career federal recruitment and retention overall. It’s also a step toward revitalizing the federal internship program, which has struggled for years.

Image of OPM panelists
Senior agency leaders participate in a panel held for federal interns, June 2024. Left to right: OPM Acting Director Rob Shriver, EEOC Chairwoman Charlotte Burrows, SBA Deputy Administrator Dilawar Syed, ACHP Chairwoman Sara Bronin, HHS Assistant Secretary Loyce Pace. Photo source: Office of Personnel Management.

Early-career numbers appear to be trending in a positive direction. Data from the Office of Management and Budget shows that between fiscal 2022 and 2023, the number of federal interns increased by 33%. There’s also been a recent uptick in the number of federal employees under age 30.

As part of the intern experience program, OPM hosted a panel Tuesday with senior leaders from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Department of Health and Human Services and Small Business Administration. Dozens of federal interns attended the event in person, with many more joining virtually to listen to the conversation.

“Events like these I think really help foster that engagement, that cohort spirit,” Shriver said after the panel.

Altering the Pathways Program

In another push toward better early-career recruitment, OPM is also now focused on helping agencies update their internal use of the Pathways Program, after finalizing new regulations in April. The recent updates to Pathways aim open the doors to more diverse applicants and alleviate some challenges agencies have historically had with the program.

The Pathways Program changes will still take a while to fully get off the ground, but Shriver said OPM is already working with agency HR offices as they iron out some of the early wrinkles to adjust their agency-specific programs and align with the new regulations.

“There’s a lot of stuff in there that is new for them to figure out, including the types of programs that now qualify — not only community colleges, but technical skills programs,” Shriver said. “Also the fact that now there’s a streamlined pathway to entry for registered apprentices, for people who participated in Job Corps, or [AmeriCorps] VISTA volunteers. [We are] making sure that not only central HR, but HR out in the field, are understanding these new flexibilities.”

That work to help HR offices and other Pathways Program leaders at agencies also involves collaborating with chief human capital officers, hosting informational webinars and educating colleges about the opportunities now possible for a broader swath of candidates, Shriver said. Additionally, OPM is working with agency HR departments to participate in job fairs, reach out to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and meet face to face with potential federal talent.

Just this week, OPM also met with other agencies to discuss its program, “Level Up to Public Service,” which focuses on expanding awareness around public service careers through partnerships with K-12 institutions and universities. The program particularly targets recruitment of individuals with disabilities who may be interested in pursuing federal employment.

“We’re getting a lot of really engaged people that are considering the federal government for a career. They’re asking smart questions, they’re navigating the hiring process, and so I think that our efforts to reach out and engage early-career talent are paying off,” Shriver said. “It’s just a matter of time, with these new tools that we put in place, before we’re going to start seeing that impact.”

Agency-specific targets for early-career talent

Senior leaders like Sara Bronin, chairwoman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, said early-career employees and interns often bring new and different ideas to her agency.

“The nature of people in preservation is that we always want to keep things the way they are — that’s in some ways the definition of preservation,” Bronin told Federal News Network at OPM’s event Tuesday. “But a field like ours needs fresh perspectives.”

Because of the desire for those broader perspectives, Bronin said her office focuses significantly on early-career talent in both recruitment and development.

“I really try to help interns and early-career professionals understand the big picture, why we are doing something and what their specific contributions can add to that effort,” she said. “For managers, it’s really important to provide the context to arm interns and early-career professionals with information and to connect them with others in the field who can help enhance their understanding of what they’re doing — not just in the internship, but in how they might approach work beyond just their specific internship.”

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency is aiming to double their number of federal interns by the end of this summer, according to Performance.gov.

Kimberly Patrick, EPA’s principal deputy assistant administrator for mission support, said while the agency is expanding its onboarding process to offer a full year of resources to new employees, that onboarding will also extend to all of the agency’s interns.

“We want to make this place as attractive as possible for our interns, so caring for them as well, as a part of that umbrella, is something that we’re looking to do, especially as we increased considerably the number of paid interns we’re having at the agency this year,” Patrick said at a June 6 GovExec event.

Alongside managing the intern experience program and other early-career talent efforts, OPM is also planning to create a governmentwide mentoring program for interns in the coming months.

“We talk about it a whole lot — how can we make the government a more attractive employer? What are the obstacles to bringing in early-career talent? And how can we be more competitive as agencies with the other opportunities that you all have?” Shriver said to the interns who attended OPM’s panel Tuesday. “We want to make sure you hear that message from us loud and clear.”

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