OPM official sees ‘slow but sustainable’ growth in Hispanic workforce

The Office of Personnel Management's Veronica Villalobos says the 2 percent growth in Hispanic federal employees is a sign of slow and steady progress.

Emily Kopp: OPM official sees 'slow but sustainable' growth in Hispanic workforce

With the Office of Personnel Management’s latest report on Hispanics in the federal government, it’s easy to take the glass half-empty approach.

The OPM report shows that 8.4 percent of the federal workforce was Hispanic in fiscal 2014, compared to 16.1 percent of the U.S. labor market. Some Latino advocates are worried that at this rate, the government will never catch up.

But Veronica Villalobos, OPM’s principal deputy associate director for employee services, chooses to view the glass as half-full.  Nearly 2 percent more of the federal workforce is Hispanic now than in 2000, when OPM issued its first report.

“Sometimes it’s slow, but we know it’s sustainable,” she said of the progress. “We’re thinking about the pipeline. This is more complex than who is self-identifying [as Hispanic] and who’s on board.”

Agencies that have made the greatest strides follow a plan that includes targeted recruiting and outreach, both on- and offline, she said.

She cited the Social Security Administration as an example. It uses applicant flow data to monitor how well its job announcements are received. It also leverages its Hispanic employment program managers and employee resource groups to tell Hispanic communities about its job opportunities.

“We see those things working consistently,” Villalobos said.

Finding job seekers on the map, through social media

Agencies have better success when they conduct recruitment and outreach in areas of the country where more Hispanics live, such as Florida or New York, Villalobos said. Job seekers often are surprised to learn that the government is hiring in their regions. Villalobos said potential candidates have told her that they thought federal jobs were confined to the Washington, D.C. area when in fact, 85 percent of federal employees work outside the Capital Beltway. She said more agencies are using heat maps and other data gleaned from USAJobs.gov, the government’s hiring portal, to target colleges in those regions.

OPM has started using “spotlight ads” on popular social media sites to encourage users to go to USAJobs, she said. Agencies are catching up to other employers through their use of LinkedIn to attract candidates. The Federal Aviation Administration received applications from a more diverse and well-qualified pool of candidates after it launched a social media campaign, followed by targeted recruiting through its employee resource groups, Villalobos said.

Cutting the red tape at USAJobs

Outside of Washington, few people know about the government’s jobs site, Villalobos said. Members of the Hispanic Employment Council, a group of several agencies, are not only introducing the site to potential candidates, but also showing them how it works.

“That seems pretty obvious. They need to know what exists for them to even apply,” she said.

USAJobs is now an online bulletin board for jobs. It can be cumbersome and overwhelming and OPM knows that, Villalobos said. It has plans to refocus the website on career paths.

OPM also is working with agencies to write their job announcements in language that people who don’t already work in the government would understand. So far this year it has trained “hundreds” of human resources professionals to write better job ads, she said. OPM is starting to work with hiring managers as well.

“That’s the first impression, that first opportunity to engage someone and get them to apply,” Villalobos said.

Faster progress within the Senior Executive Service

From fiscal 2013 to fiscal 2014, Hispanics made greater strides at the top of the federal workforce. They represented 5.5 percent of new Senior Executive Service hires in 2014, compared with 3.5 percent the year before. Agencies have done a better job of spreading the word to all of their employees, Villalobos said.

“I can think of a few agencies that, when they have a candidate development program, work very hard to get all members of their agency excited,” she said. “Just telling someone, ‘Hey, have you considered the program,’ really elevates their idea of themselves in their mind and they want to apply to things.”

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