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Federal Hiring Forecast: A Perfect Storm

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The year has gotten off to a big start with President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, which looks to “unlock the full potential” of the federal workforce by investing in leadership and engagement training for new managers. He also wants to address rising concerns about skills gaps governmentwide.

It’s an encouraging development. Especially as hiring managers face major challenges brought on by the retirements of aging baby boomers, a competitive recruitment environment and big data. If the administration’s vision comes to fruition, proposed funding would help address these challenges. In addition, there is technology readily available to help agencies rise above the headwinds and reach new levels of success.

Here’s a closer look at three key trends affecting federal talent management:

A rebounding economy leads to a retirement boom. The Office of Personnel Management received a staggering number of retirement claims last year—well over 52,000 for the first quarter of 2013, a figure which easily surpassed the 31,600 projected. While claims declined through the rest of the year, they’re expected to soar again. More than three in 10 federal workers will become retirement eligible by 2017, according to the Government Accountability Office. That translates to a potential departure of nearly 640,000 employees. This year is off to quite a start, with more than 17,000 workers filing retirement claims in January.

A wealth of them—classic baby boomers—will leave. Why? Because the economy is slowly, but steadily, rebounding. Housing prices surged by nearly 11 percent last year, with many sellers getting multiple offers on their homes. The stock market showed a nearly 30 percent return on investment in 2013 and has averaged nearly 16 percent in returns since 2009. Federal employees’ retirement investments rounded out the year with four consecutive months of gains, and nearly all the funds in the Thrift Savings Plan were in the black at the end of 2013.

Federal employees are benefiting from this economic trend, just like the rest of the nation. Many government workers who held off on retiring several years ago—when retirement savings were plunging and the average home equity was underwater—are now more than ready to depart. All of this will put agencies under immense pressure to replace talent.

Recruitment challenges loom large. During the recession, job candidates were desperate to land somewhere—anywhere. That put hiring managers in the driver’s seat, giving them the ability to select the very best of the best. Now the tables are turning and those same candidates are gaining leverage. The current unemployment rate is 6.7 percent, down from 7.9 percent a year ago.

This means many federal human resources managers will struggle to recruit valuable professionals. They’ll need to dramatically improve the application process to reduce the time it takes to respond to candidates, as well as the number of days it takes to hire them. Hiring managers will have to find “engagement opportunities” along the way, taking opportune moments to reach out to a strong applicant with emails or phone calls to say, “Hey, we really think highly of you and here’s where we are in terms of making a decision.” They’ll need to go on Twitter, Facebook and other popular social media outlets to reach applicants, since the new and next generation of workers uses these platforms daily. Such efforts would dispel an unfair, but lingering, stigma about the government—that it’s impersonal and time-consuming. They would brand agencies and HR managers as more approachable and open to new types of communication.

Big data gets bigger. Every study and analyst report about the overwhelming amount of data out there points to one conclusion: Big data is huge, and it’s only going to get larger. In fact, there will be a 4,300 percent increase in annual data generation by 2020. Public and private enterprises will store 80 percent of it.

Federal HR/talent management offices are already in the thick of it. Forward-thinking chief human capital officers and their teams see big data as a great opportunity, as opposed to a burden. Thanks to existing and developing innovations in analytics, they’re positioning themselves to tackle today’s challenges.

With analytics drilling down into all the numbers about recruitment, retention, onboarding and employee engagement—to name just a few critical factors of success—managers gain a previously unobtainable sense of complete HR data visibility. Just one benefit is the ability to sharply reduce the number of days it takes to hire because they know exactly where bottlenecks exist and can take corrective action.

Managers can take advantage of analytics-supported “alert” tools that remind them when it’s time to reach out to a top job contender with a friendly update. They can find out whether their onboarding programs are really boosting retention. They can acquire a deep understanding of the state of engagement throughout the entire agency—which departments and individual roles are most likely to experience high satisfaction or dissatisfaction—and then extend best practices from the positive areas to address those that are underperforming.

Clearly, 2014 will serve as a defining year for HR/talent managers. The increasing exodus of baby boomers will turn up the heat within the competitive recruitment environment and managers who deftly deploy IT analytics to maximize an existing asset—data—will significantly distinguish themselves.

Mike Giuffrida is co-founder and CEO of NGA.NET.

(Image via Fesus Robert/Shutterstock.com)

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