Tyler Robinson is the Chairman of the Executive Board for Young Government Leaders, and Portfolio Risk Officer at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
Every day thousands of federal workers across the country work diligently to help their agency carry out its mission. However, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated in their 2013 High Risk Report:
Addressing complex challenges such as disaster response, national and homeland security, and economic stability requires a high-quality federal workforce able to work seamlessly with other agencies, levels of government, and across sectors. However, current budget and long-term fiscal pressures, coupled with a potential wave of employee retirements that could produce gaps in leadership and institutional knowledge, threaten the government’s capacity to effectively address these and many other evolving, national issues.
One of those potential gaps is in the area of mission critical occupations (MCOs). The Office of Personnel Management defines MCOs as “Occupations agencies consider core to carrying out their missions. Such occupations usually reflect the primary mission of the organization without which mission-critical work cannot be completed.”
Each agency needs to think about how it is going fill these gaps, particularly in MCOs. One program that should be considered as an important tool is the Recent Graduates Program. This program allows agencies the opportunity to hire individuals who have graduated from a degree program within the last two years. This is a one-year program after which agencies may hire the individual to a permanent position. During the program participants receive at least 40 hours of training, create an individual development plan, and can have mentors.
Each agency has different MCOs depending on their mission, but the GAO identified six government-wide MCOs. These are:
■ Information technology management/cybersecurity;
■ Human resources specialist;
■ Contract specialist;
■ Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics occupational groups.
Furthermore, the GAO identified seven mission critical competencies, which included data analysis, strategic thinking, influencing and negotiating, and problem solving, as well as three grants management competencies.
One great way to keep a steady flow of talent going into these occupations would be to create a program that specifically targets a particular MCO using the Recent Graduates Program. Agencies can pick an occupation, such as information technology, and have an Agency … Information Technology Fellowship. That agency brings in recent graduates and trains them in this area, along with the other mission critical competencies, for one year. At the end of the year those hires would be able to step up and fill the critical positions within the agency. In addition, these positions can be hired at lower grades, which can save the agency money. If a backfill position at the GS-11 level opens up, the agency could fill that position with a recent graduate at a GS-7/9/11 career ladder position.
Young Government Leaders found through a survey that more than 80 percent of young federal employees entered government through an internship program. These programs are critical for agencies and managers to use to attract talent that does not have many years of experience. I started working for the federal government under the former Student Temporary Employment Program while I was finishing my MBA. After school, I was a part of the Presidential Management Fellows Program. These programs were vital to me and to countless other federal employees. Further use of the Recent Graduates Program will help agencies as they work on ensuring they have a high quality workforce, especially in their mission critical occupations.
As a manager, even if such a program does not exist within your agency, the Recent Graduates Program is an excellent tool you can use when there is a position open. At YGL, we asked our members what they thought should be included in the recent graduates program. Out of 12 options, rotational assignments, job shadowing opportunities, leadership training, and formal mentorships emerged as favorites.
If you choose to use the Recent Graduates Program, consider if there are ways to offer these types of activities to your new hires. One’s early experience can make or break whether they stay long term in government. I was fortunate to have excellent bosses early in my career, and I think that there is a ton of exciting work out there for recent graduates to tackle.