WASHINGTON — Efficiency, selectivity and speed are New Year’s resolutions for the government’s ‘people’ teams.
The interagency Chief Human Capital Officers Council met on Dec. 13 to reflect on initiatives and share outlooks for 2023. Leaders reported success in hacking recruitment through multi-agency and “bulk” hiring strategies, which put an emphasis on streamlining efforts and making the bureaucracy work for candidates.
Against the backdrop of private-sector layoffs this quarter and secure long-term federal funding for tech and infrastructure jobs in government, agencies are hoping to sop up job-hungry applicants.
One way to do that is through use of shared certificates, or lists of qualified candidates that can be distributed to other agencies that have similar vacancies. Legislation in 2016 authorized heads of federal agencies to share a pool of candidates with other departments in an effort to reduce duplicated efforts.
“One of our top priorities has been to help shift the federal hiring process away from one job announcement and one hire to pooled actions where we have lots of people getting hired off of a single hiring certificate,” said Roseanna Ciarlante, who is the acting manager of the hiring experience group at the Office of Personnel Management, during the meeting.
The Department of Agriculture hired 39 human resources specialists off of one agency certificate, said the agency’s Chief Human Capital Officer Anita Adkins.
In one example last year, Ciarlante said multiple agencies made a total of 100 selections from a single hiring action for data analysts.
OPM has done this before, Ciarlante said. The difference now is more focused criteria for people to make the cut through skills-based hiring tools, like subject-matter expert qualification assessments and USA Hire tests.
This involves having advisors with specific know-how assess qualification early in the hiring process, whether by reviewing resumes or screening interview transcripts. The U.S. Digital Service, a technology unit housed within the Executive Office of the President, helped pilot this idea in 2019 and found SMEs can cut selection time nearly in half.
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Effectively, government is pivoting away from assessing candidates solely based on what degree they hold. To be sure, education will still be a consideration, just not the only consideration.
“The focus should be on what applicants can do, not where they learn to do it,” said April Davis, who oversees assessment qualifications and organizational job design policy at OPM.
Prior to this year, a majority of OPM traditional assessments measured technical skills by asking candidates to self-rate on a scale and answer questions related to their previous work experience.
“This allowed us to capture the applicants’ technical skills however, we did not capture nor validate the soft skills necessary to perform those tasks,” said OPM’s CHCO Carmen Garcia at the council meeting.
To round that out, Garcia said OPM mandated the use of USA Hire assessments if they were available for the series and the grade combination. According to the agency, these are available for 133 federal job series from entry level to senior level and assess general competencies, as well as others like stress tolerance and interpersonal skills.
For this quarter, more than 70% of vacancies were using USA Hire assessments, Garcia said.
Improving time-to-hire has also been a priority in reforming talent acquisition. OPM Director Kiran Ahuja highlighted improvements for infrastructure jobs in particular, which are filled, on average, seven days quicker than other occupations.
As part of implementing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed its first anniversary last month, nearly 3,500 new employees were brought on in 90 distinct occupations across government. The aim is to replicate that number next year, Ahuja said.
At large, HR staffing levels have recovered somewhat since the 1990s, but have declined as a proportion of permanent full-time workers.
As of 2018, agencies averaged approximately one HR employee providing service to 48 agency employees, up from roughly 41 in 1990.
Strategic human capital management is still in the red zone, as it has been for years, watchdogs reports said. Since 2001, the Government Accountability Office said skill gaps have posed a high risk to the federal government and certain aspects worsened since 2019.
“We are an employer competing for talent,” said Jason Miller, deputy director of OMB and vice chair of the CHCO Council. “It’s important that we remember that.”
Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.