Pilot program will target corporate workers for federal jobs

The Partnership for Public Service on Thursday launched a pilot program to help IBM employees looking for second careers transition to mission-critical positions at the Treasury Department. The program, FedExperience, could expand to other companies and government agencies in the next several years.

"If you look at the news of the day, you see the enormous challenges we face as a nation and how many of them involve government," said Max Stier, president of the Partnership. "Across the board, from globalization to global warming, we need a government that's functioning at its very best to be able to address [those challenges], and it comes down to people."

The program is the second step in what Stier said was a three-phase process. The first was a report, also released Thursday, which detailed the opportunities and challenges the government faced in recruiting and retaining mature workers. The Partnership report was funded by a $250,000 grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies, a foundation based in Bermuda that focuses in part on issues of aging.

The pilot program, which will be run at no cost to the Treasury Department, is the second step. Stier and Rick Hastings, deputy chief human capital officer at Treasury, hesitated to set specific benchmarks, saying they wanted to create a successful model that could be expanded to other agencies in the program's third phase.

Hastings said the Partnership's efforts to help Treasury rebrand itself, to benefit from targeting older workers with the experience and skills, and to reform its hiring process would improve the department's human capital resources.

"Obviously, we want to support the President's Management Agenda. We're currently green in status and green in progress," Hastings said. "We look at this partnership as a way to supplement efforts that are already under way."

Office of Personnel Management Director Linda Springer said she was enthusiastic about the possibility of expanding the relationship to other agencies and corporate employers to bring experienced workers into government for the first time.

"As an older American, I'm pleased to be here. I can personally attest to the fact that older Americans can be dynamic," she said. "We are fully behind the notion that we need to reach out to the corporate sector and the people who are ending their careers there and particularly value public service."

Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said she hoped the initiative would encourage the Office of Personnel Management and agencies to step up recruitment of older workers. "We recognize that older workers bring valuable experience to the federal workplace," she said. "To the extent that hiring older workers who meet position requirements is part of any program to deal with staffing issues, these individuals should compete for positions like any other applicant."

The Partnership's report found that the government has some significant hurdles to overcome. The report cited a March 2007 Pew Research Center poll that indicated while only 42 percent of people under 30 viewed government as inefficient, 70 percent of people in the FedExperience target age range of 50 to 64 saw government that way. The report also found that 57 percent of older Americans thought or had an experience that led them to believe that the federal job application process was more difficult than for private sector or nonprofit employers.

But the report also found that older workers who wanted to transition to second careers said that being challenged in their job was important to them, which could make them a good match for government. It also cited a 2007 survey by the Merit Systems Protection Board that showed recent senior federal hires rated government more highly than their previous employers in other sectors.

Springer said government had many attributes that would make it an attractive option for transitioning workers.

"We have attractors, and at the more experienced end, that includes things like having an established infrastructure. It's there waiting for you," Springer said. "If you're interested in benefits, you name it, we've got it. There's the opportunity to work on a project basis as a longer-term career individual. This is not about sitting in Washington at a cold, gray metal desk from 9 to 5, doing a boring job."

Stanley Litow, vice president for corporate citizenship and corporate affairs at IBM, compared the initiative with a program the company started two years ago that retrains employees to become math and science teachers. The program has a zero attrition rate and has involved more than 100 IBM employees. Litow said he would like to see similar results through FedExperience.

"There are a lot of people who will be interested in public service, but to get from point A to point B, you need a little help in the transition," he said. He added that the program makes sense for IBM because it contributes to the company's branding.

"It builds a more effective workforce when the company helps employees think through the transitions in their lives," Litow said. "People who spent their careers in IBM will think better of the company. It improves the company's brand. It's corporate citizenship, but it's good business to operate this way."

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