After the Office of Personnel Management touted some early successes in piloting ways to reinvigorate the federal hiring process, leaders in human capital management are looking to expand those initiatives.
Improving federal recruitment has been top of mind for agency chief human capital officers (CHCOs), who discuss workforce strategies nearly every week with the Office of Personnel Management.
“We’ve talked about paid internship guidance, regulation updates, different options for law enforcement officers, retirement reform, the ten-year term appointment proposed regulations that were recently issued, and also ideas for potential future telework or remote work policy changes,” said Margot Conrad, the CHCO Council’s executive director, at a Dec. 13 public council meeting.
Among those conversations, agency CHCOs on the council considered ways to expand hiring innovations for broader use across the federal government.
“There’s a lot of good work that has been piloted, and new approaches taken, that we think can be scaled or replicated in other parts of government,” said Rob Shriver, OPM’s associate director for employee services.
These types of hiring innovations can ultimately help make the federal hiring process more efficient, added Roseanna Ciarlante, a senior HR policy specialist at OPM, and acting director of OPM’s new hiring experience team. One of those innovations is the use of shared certificates.
“One of our top priorities has been to help shift the federal hiring process away from one job announcement and one hire, to pooled actions where we have lots of people getting hired off of a single hiring certificate,” Ciarlante said.
Shared certificates promote multiple similar job openings across different agencies, all under one announcement. Agencies can then hire many qualified candidates from a shared list of applicants. The idea isn’t necessarily new, as it comes from the 2015 Competitive Service Act and subsequent OPM guidance published in 2018. But Ciarlante said the agency is now “taking it to a whole other level.”
Pooling job postings, for instance, led to 100 separate hires from a single job announcement looking for data analysts. The council is hoping to replicate and expand those efforts, along with other recent developments, to bring in more new hires to the federal government.
“We’re seeing positive results as we pull agency resources in terms of subject-matter experts, and the use of more rigorous assessments.” Ciarlante said.
Some recent successful examples of pooled hiring came from recruitment through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, known commonly as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). Under the BIL, OPM partnered with CHCOs from seven different agencies, ultimately hiring roughly 3,500 new federal employees over the last year. The new hires were for 90 different types of positions, with many using shared certificates.
In one example, the Agriculture Department hired 39 HR specialists off of a single certificate, according to agency CHCO Anita Adkins. The federal HR specialist position, notably, is a mission-critical occupation that OPM recently reported still has a governmentwide skills gap.
“We will continue our hiring push for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to close skill gaps and to fill critical positions,” OPM Director Kiran Ahuja, chairperson of the CHCO Council, said at the council meeting. “Just as we hired 3,500 targeted positions in 2022 for BIL, we’ll do the same and 2023, bringing the total number of new critical hires to more than 7,000.”
Along with using more shared certificates, improving the time it takes to hire an applicant is another priority for OPM. Recruitment under the BIL again exhibited how the process can be made faster, according to the council. The hiring time for infrastructure jobs is seven days quicker, on average, than it is for other occupations, Ahuja said. It’s something that OPM, and the council, are hoping to imitate on a larger scale for more agencies.
Additionally, the council said it’s focused on using skills-based hiring practices. It’s an initiative that OPM released guidance around earlier this year, pushing agencies to focus more on the skills of applicants, rather than their educational background.
“Educational qualifications remain part of the hiring process, but the focus should be on what applicants can do, not where they learned to do it,” said April Davis, OPM’s director of classification and assessment policy. “It helps hiring managers accurately assess a candidate’s knowledge, skills and abilities by relying more on a professionally developed competency-based assessment. It improves the hiring process for both applicants and managers by providing hiring managers with the skill candidates they need to hire the first time around.”
OPM itself has worked on some internal efforts around skills-based hiring, according to the agency’s newly named CHCO, Carmen Garcia. The agency added an assessment for job applicants to highlight their “soft skills” and broaden the way that the agency views applicant qualifications. OPM is currently using these assessments along with the agency’s traditional technical assessments for job applicants. Notably, 78% of OPM job vacancies this quarter used the new assessments. The hiring managers then worked with subject-matter experts to help narrow down to the most qualified job candidates.
After trying out this focus on skills-based hiring for several different openings, Garcia said it could scale up both within OPM and across other agencies.
“The feedback from all participants was very positive. They stated that the process was interactive, effective, and some even said it was fun,” Garcia said. “This has now served as a proof of concept at OPM so that we can replicate the framework.”