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Internship program must follow through on training

Oct. 15, 2011 - 06:00AM   |  
By LYNNIE MARTIN   |   Comments

The Office of Personnel Management should be applauded for its proposed Pathways Program, the government's new internship program. As proposed, it will be a much-welcomed point of entry to federal employment for promising, talented individuals who lack job experience. The program, however, as outlined by OPM, can be improved.

The Pathways Program was established in December by an executive order and is divided into three paths: the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. In the past, hiring students and recent graduates was a weak point in the federal recruiting plan because hiring usually focuses on those with experience. Therefore, these pathways are great news for highly skilled new hires who lack work experience because they have focused on higher education.

OPM's guidelines on training new hires to become leaders, rather than simply placing them in entry-level positions and allowing them to sink or swim, are forward-thinking. Much attention is placed on recruiting talented individuals, and agencies often drop the ball when it comes to training and retaining the employees they work to recruit. OPM requires that interns recruited through the Recent Graduates Program and PMF Program follow a program syllabus, which promotes consistency at the agency level.

OPM requires 80 hours of training for those enrolled in the PMF Program, and 40 hours for those in the Recent Graduates Program. The decision to require less training for Recent Graduates participants is disappointing because furthering these employees' education would likely increase job satisfaction among those who have demonstrated their commitment to higher learning.

Additionally, OPM has adjusted the definition of training to include "interactive training" for the Recent Graduates and PMF employees. This useful update will allow the employee to receive a more diverse education, while saving money for the agency.

OPM will require a Senior Executive Service or SES-equivalent mentor for the PMF Program. A personal connection with an SESer would be a valuable and instructional asset for any government employee. It is important though to look beyond the guidelines and examine the commitment of that mentor. SESers are highly engaged and often carry a demanding workload. With no requirements stated regarding a minimum number of mentoring sessions, many PMFs may lose out on a valuable opportunity. It would be interesting to learn how OPM expects this requirement to be incorporated into SES position descriptions.

It is disappointing that similar training and development requirements are absent in the Pathways Internship Program. This may provide a short-term benefit to agencies hiring interns because they do not have to meet all of the requirements, such as providing an independent development plan (which serves as a syllabus for government employees), formal mentor and classroom training. But it would come at a cost to government and those new employees, who may lack a connection with co-workers, loyalty to the government, and well-rounded development.

OPM's regulations for the Pathways Program will attract a wide range of skilled candidates, many of whom, due to their lack of work experience, were traditionally at a disadvantage in gaining a foothold in the federal government. OPM will next need to concentrate on ensuring the programs are implemented well so those new employees have sufficient support and opportunities for success.

OPM must supervise the agencies hosting Pathways participants to encourage consistency and serve as an active advocate for quality training and developmental experiences for the new hires to ensure recruitment efforts are not in vain. OPM has an enormous task to recruit and retain highly qualified employees, and for tomorrow's leaders, the Pathways Program has the ability to serve as the first step on the road to success.

Lynnie Martin is the national public relations director for Young Government Leaders, a professional organization that has roughly 3,000 members and promotes the development and advancement of young federal employees.

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