For agencies, limited resources are a major challenge to scaling workforce innovations

After gathering feedback from agency leaders, the Office of Personnel Management has found common limitations that are leading to challenges with long-term work...

As agency leaders approach another opportunity to share their biggest pain points in workforce planning, the Office of Personnel Management has pointed out some common challenges agencies are currently facing.

Limited resources are the greatest impediment to agencies’ ability to bring human resources innovations to scale, OPM said in a recent report summarizing findings from human capital reviews during fiscal 2023.

Last year, OPM spent several months interviewing agency chief human capital officers (CHCOs) and other workforce leaders about their challenges in everything from recruitment and retention to long-term workforce planning.

Many CHCOs, as summarized by OPM, said during the 2023 human capital reviews that without the right staffing, skills and structure in federal HR shops, advancements in workforce planning will likely fall short. Limitations in both budget and HR restrict agencies’ capacity to explore opportunities and take innovations to scale, OPM said.

At the same time that CHCOs face budget challenges, they are also becoming more interested in using data analytics to track progress and inform their decisions for workforce planning.

“Most agencies have a common desire to maximize the use of data through dashboards and integrated datasets,” OPM said.

Agencies have plenty of human capital data available to them, but often not enough expertise and capacity to properly manage it. CHCOs are looking for more help from OPM to understand the workforce data, as well as get additional training and tools for HR specialists and managers to implement effective workforce planning and analysis.

“While the need to automate and make better use of data is widely felt, agencies are hampered by disparate systems and lack of centralized data governance,” OPM said.

A decentralized system can hinder certain aspects of the employee lifecycle, like onboarding or training and development — particularly at large agencies, OPM said. If a large department doesn’t have consistency across its components, workforce planning is much more difficult.

“Agencies noted that ensuring the onboarding experience is consistent among employees, particularly in large agencies with dispersed workforces when the agency has limited technology, is an ongoing challenge,” OPM said.

During the 2023 human capital reviews, agencies also asked OPM for broader support with workforce planning — with help defining job analyses and classifications, creating a hiring manager guide and offering automated tools to help wade through frustrations with the often-difficult civil service system.

Moving forward, CHCOs asked OPM to collaborate more closely with stakeholders to collect and share innovative and leading practices in workforce planning. And as OPM plans to ramp up pooled hiring this year, agencies said there are specific areas to consider for those actions.

“One recommendation was to create a governmentwide student intern announcement to allow for sharing certificates and assessment tools to streamline hiring of interns,” OPM said.

Some agencies have made notable advancements in their workforce planning. The Education Department, for example, created an interactive workforce dashboard for agency leaders to better understand workforce needs, and developed a “workforce maturity model” to detail what an ideal workforce plan would look like.

To better understand the funding it needs, Education also ran different hiring scenarios and modeled budget projections as a way to lay the foundation for future workforce planning.

At NASA, agency leaders used dashboards to consolidate workforce data across all its components. The agency then used the information for workforce planning, projecting turnover, and figuring out where there may be significant recruitment activities.

Overall, NASA reduced its time-to-hire from 134 days to 71 days by centralizing its recruitment activities.

OPM also outlined more goals to help agencies with their workforce planning. OPM plans to launch a “future of the workforce” team that will work to create a workforce planning guide, host an introductory webinar, and identify immediate challenges for agencies. The team then plans to help agencies build workforce planning strategies and provide technical assistance as agencies request it.

Additionally, OPM plans to set up a “community of practice” to let agencies collaborate, share best practices and support each other in workforce planning goals.

Working within the resources OPM has currently available, OPM Deputy Director Rob Shriver said the key is to focus on what priorities will have the best effects for agencies governmentwide.

“I talk a lot to the team about what I call ‘ruthless efficiency,’” Shriver said in a recent interview with Federal News Network. “That means we must take a look at what we’re doing, and constantly be prioritizing our efforts and aligning our resources to the things that are most important and most impactful.”

Coming up, agency leaders have another opportunity to share their ideas and feedback on workforce planning. This week, OPM announced plans for its next round of yearly human capital reviews.

The upcoming reviews will focus on agencies’ progress in using data to adjust human capital strategies, and the remaining needs for skills and processes in data analytics.

Agencies must share their main point of contact for the reviews with OPM by Jan. 24, and the reviews will begin in March. The feedback from CHCOs and other federal HR leaders will then feed into the next iteration of OPM’s human capital review report.

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