The federal government on Thursday finalized regulations that update a decade-old program aimed at getting more young people working in public service.

The Pathways program, devised by the Obama administration to fix a recruitment problem that to this day confounds federal human capital officers, is widening its eligibility and lifting administration burdens that have frustrated students and hiring managers.

“The updates to the Pathways programs will increase opportunities and remove barriers to hire interns, fellows, apprentices, recent students and trainees which will help federal agencies boost their talent pipelines to serve the American people,” said Kiran Ahuja, the director of the Office of Personnel Management, in a statement April 11.

In fiscal 2022, the latest for which data is available, the federal government made more than 8,500 appointments via the Pathways program. That’s a shadow of what the program used to bring in at its peak years ago, but the new regulations aim to support participation by recognizing graduates who opt for skills certifications instead of four-year degrees and giving hiring officials more time to onboard participants.

The rule has been in the works since it was first introduced last summer, and it is one of several actions the administration has taken to address a problem that has gone on for years. With just 7% of the federal workforce under age 30, the federal workforce is older, on average, and competes heavily with the private sector on pay, benefits and ease of recruitment.

This rule softens some of the rigidity surrounding government hiring, but it also acknowledges that the success of these changes are not guaranteed. Having the right internship coordinators in place at an agency, sufficient funding to recruit and a welcoming culture can influence whether the number of hires actually increases.

To be eligible for permanent federal employment through Pathways, an individual must complete one of the three “paths”: the Internship Program, the Recent Graduates Program or the Presidential Management Fellows Program. Now, technical education programs or work experience, like an apprenticeship or Peace Corps duty, will satisfy eligibility requirements for Recent Graduates.

Interns can be now slotted into a full-time position after completing 480 hours in their internship, instead of 640 hours.

Agencies now have 180 days, up from 120, to make these conversions. OPM said it approved this provision because it give students more time to get the official documents they need to prove they received their degree and agency officials more time to process background checks or other employment actions.

And third, with respect to pay, OPM is allowing agencies to hire recent graduates at a GS-11 starting salary, instead of a GS-9. That’s a potential difference of $10,000.

Next steps for agencies include additional guidance to be posted online, an updated program handbook and a toolkit for managers and supervisors to get up to speed on the changes.

“This major revision of the Pathways programs, the first in decades, will strengthen the federal government’s early career talent pipeline and ensure federal agencies have even greater access to diverse talent across the country,” said Jason Miller, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

According to the White House’s budget, a Pathways conversion database to track progress will launch in 2024.

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.

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