Why digital is the problem and solution for government workforce shortages

Though government agencies often struggle to recruit and retain the levels of cyber and IT talent necessary to maintain modern digital operations, new digital tools also offer solutions to many federal recruitment problems.

According to experts who spoke at a May 31, 2018, FedInsider webinar, online tools enable recruiters to access the kinds of employees they’re looking to hire more directly, and data analytics can help agencies make the most efficient recruiting choices.

“Data is king here, so we take all the data that we can possibly get and look at it. We even take all of our recruiting events and know how much money we’re spending, where we’re spending the money, which avenues we’re using, whether or not they have been successful, so we can make sure that we get a return on investment when it comes to the recruiting events,” said Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer at the Department of Homeland Security.

OPM issued a memo authorizing the use of excepted service appointments to fill IT positions. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
OPM issues hiring memo to fill federal IT positions

The Office of Personnel Management has issued an excepted service appointment memo to the heads of federal agencies authorizing them to hire technical staff for up to one year to work on IT modernization initiatives.

According to Cynthia Miller, chief of the Human Resources Group at the National Security Agency, digital tools have helped her agency access people in locations that often aren’t reached by their recruiting events or physical advertising.

“Our presence is not necessarily in all of the places we want to recruit from. So the digital marketing and advertising allows us to really expand our reach, use of social media and job boards like LinkedIn, for example, play a big part in the success of finding and getting to those applicants,” said Miller.

Data can also help agencies to position their recruiting efforts in a way that leads to a larger diversity of applicants, an essential skill for departments or positions that struggle to attract diverse talent.

“One of the things it tells us is we could do a much better job of having women in law enforcement,” said Bailey. “We are going to have a women in law enforcement event coming up in June down in Texas and you might say to yourself ‘Why Texas?’ Use the data again and find out that’s where the vast majority of female veterans are located. That’s where the bulk of our hiring is.”

Big data can also help agencies understand why some job postings only attract a certain kind of talent, according to Michael Cirrito, general manager for LinkedIn’s Government Practice.

Cirrito explained that phrasing and word choice have shown to have a marked impact on whether women choose to apply for a job, so increasing gender diversity may boil down to restructuring job postings.

But the federal hiring process is still a clunky system, with many applicants often being forced to wait months while their applications or security clearances are processing.

And though Ellen Ardrey, associate director for support at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, said that her agency works to particularly get positions like data analysts working on unclassified systems while their security clearances are pending, agencies still have to pay special attention to keeping applicants interested up to the point of hire.

“How do we help the applicant get the whole way through the process so we don’t lose them? Because there’s a whole lot of quality folks out there that they’ll hang with us, they understand it takes a little bit of time to get through, but I think they just need us to pay a little bit more attention to them,” said Bailey.

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