Agencies have had success using shared certifications and skills-based hiring assessments.

Agencies have had success using shared certifications and skills-based hiring assessments. Zia Soleil / Getty Images

Recent Hiring Reforms Are Already Working, Federal HR Leaders Say

At the annual public meeting of the Chief Human Capital Officers Council, officials said innovations like shared certifications and skills-based hiring are paying dividends.

The federal government’s cadre of top human capital officials on Tuesday touted early success in using a pair of recent reforms to the federal hiring process and urged their colleagues to build on “government-wide momentum” to revitalize human resources offices.

The Chief Human Capital Officers Council, an interagency forum hosted by the Office of Personnel Management to discuss and coordinate federal workforce issues, held its annual public meeting Tuesday. Biden administration officials highlighted the success of surge hiring initiatives to attract 3,500 new federal workers this year to help implement the bipartisan infrastructure law and the role two recent innovations in the hiring process—shared certifications and skills-based hiring assessments—played in that effort.

Shared certifications are the practice by which the government advertises many job announcements for common positions at once, so that once the evaluation of candidates is complete, agencies can all hire from the same list of qualified applicants. OPM Director Kiran Ahuja previewed this tactic at the beginning of the hiring surge last May.

Skills-based hiring, as opposed to assessing applicants based primarily on educational attainment, has been a priority for both the Trump and Biden administrations. Instead of the old system, by which federal job applicants would self-certify their qualifications, agency subject matter experts develop assessments to determine whether an applicant has the right skills to succeed on the job. Such assessments vary based on the various federal job types, but agencies have already developed a common USA Hire assessment to measure general competencies and soft skills that are common across many government positions.

Anita Adkins, the Agriculture Department’s chief human capital officer, said the shared certification process was key to quickly staffing up her department’s human resources office.

“The HR specialist occupation was one of many that we were able to take advantage of to assist agencies in the implementation of the bipartisan infrastructure law and hiring,” she said. “USDA said 'yes' to that initiative, along with eight other agencies that participated . . . USDA hired 39 HR specialists off of that single certificate, and we are just delighted with our hires and are excited to do it again.”

Health and Human Services Department human capital chief Bob Leavitt said making use of shared certifications both across government and across multiple agencies within his department has made it easier for those agencies to focus on administering policy and programs.

“This month alone, we had one operational division—the Administration for Children and Families—they needed to hire quite a few staff really quickly in acquisitions,” Leavitt said. “In one day, we processed eight requests from shared certs, on Dec. 6, so they could move quickly. ACF does phenomenal work fostering wellbeing in children and families, and moving faster allows them to focus more on their mission rather than duplicating various hiring processes.”

Leavitt said that the move to skills-based hiring and shared certifications share a common thread: improving the federal hiring process requires strategic workforce planning and the abandonment of the old notion that each hiring action is a separate transaction.

“What foundational elements do we need in shared certifications and [other hiring innovations]?” he said. “It’s a recognition of the shared responsibility for hiring and leadership across functions. We must work in partnership to excel at doing just that. It’s not just a transaction of human resources—it’s a strategic requirement.”