An increasing U.S. population is requiring greater reliance on federal government services as the public sector workforce faces a growing talent crisis.
Thomas Ross, president of the Volcker Alliance, said 7.2 percent of the federal government workforce is younger than 30 years old compared to 25 percent in the private sector where young people interested in areas such as cybersecurity can command higher pay.
Meanwhile, the federal workforce is aging, with retirements creating vacancies.
When President Donald Trump signed HR 5515 — the John McCain National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2019 — into law in August, it initiated civil-service reform legislation not seen in nearly four decades.
Provisions focus on recruiting, hiring and attracting a younger workforce as outlined in “Renewing America’s Civil Service,” a joint initiative of the Volcker Alliance and the Partnership for Public Service, two nonpartisan, nonprofit organizations that worked with a U.S. Senate committee responsible for government operations to incorporate the jobs initiative into the bill, Ross said.
Solutions to easing the talent gap are expediting hiring for college graduates and post-secondary students and enabling federal agencies to determine recruitment processes to compete for top talent.
Security clearances notwithstanding, the federal government hiring process averages 106 days — three times as long as in the private sector, Ross said.
Government also can take a cue from the private sector in offering jobs to promising candidates months in advance of their graduation, Ross said.
The NDAA changes the Department of Defense’s authority to directly hire recent graduates and gives federal agencies flexibility in setting the minimum number of candidates who must be considered on a referral list for each vacancy.
Attracting people early in their career and transitioning them into permanent roles following a federal government internship or fellowship while emphasizing the value of public service can make federal jobs appealing, said Ross.
The Volcker Alliance launched Government to Universities to engage in nationwide discussions with university and government officials regarding federal government workforce recruiting, as colleges and universities consider curriculums preparing students for the future government workforce, Ross said.
Such efforts engage not only schools of public affairs but also business schools, law schools and computer science programs, giving students the tools needed for data-driven decisions “so they understand how to be the best managers they can be and how to deal with the vast amount of outsourcing and contracting taking place in the government,” said Ross.
The Volcker Alliance’s “Preparing Tomorrow’s Public Service” report outlines skills and competencies government employees say would have benefited them in school and raises ideas about professional development needed to ensure future success, Ross said.
They include team and self-management, responding to the public, data and technology skills, business acumen and navigating the broader environment.
Maggie Mello, Volcker Alliance associate director, said one surprising find was that respondents ranked soft skills important to success over more technical skills.
The Volcker Alliance promotes the idea of government agencies and professional associations assisting rising leaders with networking, mentoring, coaching and developing career-stage learning rubrics.
Higher education and training institutions can incorporate more field-based content such as mock negotiations, team-based assignments with assigned roles reflecting typical government roles, and coursework reflecting the interdependencies and overlapping domains in real-world public service.
They also can partner with government agencies and associations to develop scalable professional education offerings such as certificate programs aligned with competency areas.
“Preparing students for public service work is not as straightforward as preparing them for other occupations because as a public servant your objectives are often less clear,” said Jon Nehlsen, associate dean at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.
“Business schools teach students skills to increase shareholder value, a worthy proposition,” he added. “But what is the analogy for public policy schools? Increasing social welfare involves managing many groups with often-competing interests.”
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