Human resources managers share hiring strategies

Some agencies are trying to attract new employees and keep current ones happy with fresh strategies that include signing bonuses for business school graduates and mentoring programs for potential senior executives.

Last Thursday, human resources managers from the General Accounting Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Education and Labor departments gathered to discuss how they have changed their hiring processes to meet, and even surpass, the requirements of President Bush's management agenda. The conference was co-sponsored by the Treasury Department's Federal Consulting Group and Canal Bridge Consulting, a Bethesda, Md.-based management consulting firm.

For example, the Labor Department has implemented a program to recruit candidates with Masters of Business Administration degrees. The department will select two groups of 15 business school graduates, and place them in management positions for two years. One group will start in January, and the other begins in May.

Labor was worried that it would be hard to convince MBAs to apply for the public sector jobs, according to Jerry Lelchook, Labor's deputy director of human resources. But it need not have worried-the program already has 250 applicants. The department is also in a position to offer signing bonuses to the final candidates, Lelchook said.

Labor is also cultivating new managers from within its own ranks. The department expanded its mentoring program that is aimed at preparing working-level employees to become supervisors. At higher grades, the department will select managers with exceptional leadership skills to enter the Senior Executive Service candidate program. The program sends SES candidates to an Office of Personnel Management training program. After completing the program, candidates receive a certification form that will allow them to fill SES vacancies without going through the interview process.

The president's management agenda, which includes five governmentwide initiatives, encourages agencies to design innovative recruitment strategies and do more than merely fill positions left empty as a result of retirements. Human resources departments need to fill positions with people who have the right skills sets to help agencies achieve their strategic objectives, according to the management agenda.

With more than a third of its staff eligible to retire by fiscal year 2005, GAO is working hard to attract young workers, said Richard Smith, director of workforce planning and best practices in the agency's human capital office. The office's recruitment infrastructure suffered from neglect during a period of downsizing in the mid-1990s, he explained. In the past few years, GAO's human resources department has worked to rebuild relationships with college career centers.

In addition, GAO began taking a closer look at current employees' skills and identifying areas of weakness. This "data-driven" effort to identify gaps will help the office focus its recruitment efforts, Smith said. For example, some data collected helped agency officials determine that GAO needs a more computer-savvy workforce.

The EPA has completed a similar assessment, according to Kirk Maconaughey, a human resources manager at the agency. Maconaughey and his staff have looked ahead to 2020 and identified the skills the agency's workforce will need in four "alternative futures." They then picked out the common skills needed in all four futures, and have started looking for new hires with those talents.

For instance, the agency is still looking for scientists with specific areas of expertise, but these employees can no longer arrive at work with "a list of things they cannot or will not do," Maconaughey said. Instead, they must be willing and able to "juggle a lot of balls," because they will need to manage projects effectively, motivate other employees and market ideas.

The EPA is also making an extra effort to provide candidates with accurate job descriptions, so that the position meets their expectations once they begin working. For instance, some recent college graduates want to work at the EPA as civil engineers, but they envision themselves going out and visiting work sites frequently, when in fact, the openings they have applied for are primarily desk jobs, Maconaughey said.

At the Education Department, Michael Munoz, deputy assistant secretary of education-performance improvement, has created 11 employee teams to help him identify and close "critical skills gaps." The department, in whole or in part, has undergone 104 restructurings in the past decade, but still needs to sharpen its workforce plan, Munoz said. Education is also focusing on "institutionalizing knowledge," so that new hires can start in where the people retiring left off, Munoz said.

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