Specially Hired Federal Interns and Recent Grads Are Staying in Government

Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said Pathways retention figures demonstrate the success of the programs.  Acting OPM Director Beth Cobert said Pathways retention figures demonstrate the success of the programs. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

More than 90 percent of federal interns, fellows and other non-competitively hired recent graduates planned to stay in government in the immediate future as of fiscal 2014, according to a new report from the Office of Personnel Management.

Additionally, 87 percent of the young workers hired through the Pathways Programs stayed in government for at least two years. President Obama created Pathways through a 2010 executive order to consolidate a patchwork of various hiring processes aimed at students and recent graduates. OPM studied the programs to ensure their fair and effective use, releasing a report Tuesday finding agencies were largely complying with the rules and benefiting from the initiative.

Pathways is made up of an internship program, a recent graduate program and the Presidential Management Fellowship. The latter two are designed to turn the hires into career federal workers. All employees brought in through Pathways are hired using the excepted service.

Through fiscal 2015, agencies have brought in more than 35,000 employees using the programs.

OPM found agencies were by and large being transparent in their Pathways job postings, with 94 percent of Pathways Programs Officers saying in a survey their openings are available on USAJOBS. About 60 percent posted the jobs on the agency’s website, while 55 percent recruited for Pathways openings at career and college fairs.

OPM advised agencies to recruit the best candidates through a more proactive approach, such as an active presence with professional organizations, colleges and on social media.

“Effective recruitment goes well beyond the announcement itself,” OPM said, “and relying solely on USAJOBS postings could leave the quality of agency referral lists to chance.”

Agencies' use of Pathways has grown since it formally launched in 2012, OPM said, but their usages are still appropriate. OPM has cautioned against the overuse of excepted hiring through Pathways, and reserves the right to set caps on the number of appointments. The human resources agency has yet to reach that point, however, as just one in five new hires in federal government came in through the programs in fiscal 2014. That is down from 53 percent who were hired through Pathways predecessors in fiscal 2010.

OPM suggested agencies work more closely with their human resources offices to better align their Pathways hires with succession planning. Still, the agency’s acting Director Beth Cobert said Pathways retention figures demonstrate the success of the programs.  

“With more federal employees becoming eligible for retirement, the Pathways Programs have become a great resource for agencies to help bolster our civil service ranks,” Cobert said, “and the report shows that retention rates among Pathways participants has been high so far.”

Pathways was designed to benefit veterans more than its predecessors, with agencies required to give former military personnel a leg up in the hiring process. Just 18 percent of Pathways hires in fiscal 2014 were veterans, compared to 32 percent of all federal hires, though the figure is four times higher than veteran hiring in previous student and recent graduate initiatives.

OPM has also focused on requiring agencies to provide proper training to Pathways employees, and 80 percent of surveyed appointees said they felt comfortable with their onboarding. Still, OPM called for a more structured process, noting just 59 percent of agencies had required mentorship programs in place. 

In conjunction with the report, OPM released a new handbook and toolkit to help supervisors hire and run the programs.  It is also holding online courses to help managers with Pathways implementation. 

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