Federal agencies must creatively and aggressively recruit science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical employees to keep up with rising demand and competition from the private sector, according to a new report that will be released Thursday.
The Partnership for Public Service and Booz Allen Hamilton said in their report, “The Biggest Bang Theory,” that the federal government can’t provide those highly skilled workers the same exorbitant salaries or perks like free lunches and a looser office culture that some private-sector firms offer. But the government has its own advantages to lure potential employees, such as giving them a chance to work on unique missions on a national or international scale. The report also recommends that agencies showcase their “shiny toys” — that is, cutting-edge technology such as particle accelerators, fusion chambers or laser weapons that their employees have the opportunity to work on.
The percentage of so-called STEMM employees — science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medical employees — in the federal workforce has grown from nearly 25 percent in 2002 to more than 28 percent in 2012, and is likely to keep growing, the report said. But the need for those valuable employees is expected to grow 24 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020, while the supply is likely to shrink. This will make the government’s recruiting challenges even tougher than they are now.
“If STEMM hiring is competitive now, it is likely to border on cutthroat in the forecasted hypercompetitive future,” the report said.
Agencies such as NASA, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Veterans Affairs Department have the highest percentage of STEMM workers. But several other agencies also rely heavily on those skills, such as the Navy, Environmental Protection Agency, and the Interior, Commerce, Health and Human Services, and Agriculture departments.
The report recommended that agencies publicize their unique missions and opportunities when trying to recruit these workers. For example, the National Security Agency highlights its need for codebreakers, and NASA astrophysicist John Mather won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for work he did studying the Big Bang while at the Goddard Space Flight Center.
“You have to find a compelling story and tell it to the community that cares,” an unnamed NASA employee said in the report.
The Partnership and Booz Allen Hamilton recommend that agencies start recruiting young people early — in some cases, while they’re still in high school — to steer them toward federal careers. NSA, for example, sponsors a mathematics summer camp for high school students. And the intelligence community runs a grant program to help colleges and universities fund courses that teach science, engineering, technology and mathematics skills, which are crucial to creating the next generation of analysts.
The report also says college students are often persuaded by their peers, and advises agencies to send their scientists and engineers to colleges and universities to recruit new employees.