OPM study says federal HR staff lack important skills

klunney@govexec.com

Federal human resources professionals lack the skills needed to do their jobs well, particularly when it comes to technical skills, a recent Office of Personnel Management study found.

According to the study, more than 90 percent of HR executives say there is a gap between the requirements and the actual competencies of current HR professionals. Almost 70 percent of this group said their agencies had little or no formal plan to close the gaps.

The reasons cited for the skills discrepancy include increased workloads, poor attitudes of service providers, a general lack of training and the government downsizing during the 1990s, which resulted in a 17.5 percent decrease in the HR workforce governmentwide.

"These findings clearly show that there are serious gaps between the importance HR professionals attach to various competencies and their assessment of whether they possess them," the report said.

"Competencies" are defined by OPM as skills or characteristics that improve and enhance an individual's job performance.

According to the report, the new business landscape in government and changing demographic trends require HR professionals to take on a host of multi-faceted characteristics. OPM defines four crucial roles for the 21st century HR professional: business partner, change agent, leader and technical human resources expert.

Technical ability is not solely based on information technology savvy-the effective HR employee also needs to have a working knowledge of human resources law and policies and work-life and organizational plans.

The majority of respondents viewed the role of technical human resources expert as the most important of their jobs, while the role of business partner-which stresses customer service, risk-taking, and creativity on the job-was rated as being least important by more than 50 percent of the respondents.

The report concludes that federal human resources managers need to adapt themselves to new factors shaping the public and private sectors. According to the report, each agency needs to follow a general road map in order to succeed in transforming itself:

  • Study individual size and makeup in relation to strategic goals.
  • Plan transition strategy based on expert opinion, budgets and workforce demographics.
  • Assess the organizational culture and competency levels of the HR workforce.
  • Communicate expectations and results.
  • Incorporate changes into major programs.
  • Measure results and readjust accordingly.
  • Develop competencies in employees through on-the-job training, supportive networks, and courses.
  • Learn from other agencies' success stories.

The HR Workforce: Meeting the Challenge of Change is the third report in a series studying the federal human resources community. The first analysis examined the factors and demographic changes that have shaped the HR workforce over the last 30 years while the second investigated the emerging roles and skills redefining the profession. The entire series is online at www.opm.gov/studies.

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