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Federal Workforce Training and Education, Digital Personnel Records and More

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Federal officials on Tuesday discussed opportunities both now and in the long term for improving the recruitment and retention of highly skilled federal workers, providing professional development and helping them achieve career goals.

At an Office of Personnel Management event hosted by Government Executive Media Group’s custom publishing arm, Studio 2G, personnel officials from OPM and the Office of Management and Budget discussed a variety of issues broached in President Trump’s management agenda, from the hiring process and workforce planning to employee engagement and reskilling.

“Obviously there’s a tremendous amount of interest in how to address hiring, and part of it is to make sure agencies know what is available to them today,” said Mark Reinhold, OPM’s associate director for employee services. “There are dozens of hiring authorities out there, and some are used more and others are used less, and some not at all. Beyond that, there’s great interest at OPM and under Director Dr. Jeff Pon and within the administration and on Capitol Hill to look at civil service modernization.”

Dustin Brown, the deputy assistant director for performance and personnel management at OMB, also stressed that improving the hiring process to attract top talent requires pairing immediate administrative changes with long-term projects.

“I was discouraged by a statistic that said only 42 percent of federal workers believe their work unit can recruit people with the right skills,” Brown said. “We need to understand what’s driving that and put better focus on proactive recruitment and other measures to make sure we’re competitive in attracting top talent . . . [To sell people on public service], we need to start with the mission, because that’s what really excites people about working for the federal government. It’s about being more articulate [in job postings] about the impact of the federal government’s mission on citizens, the economy and the environment.”

A major priority of the Trump administration in its first year has been developing reorganization plans for federal agencies, and with them an overall realignment of the federal workforce. Steve Goodrich, president and CEO of the Center for Organizational Excellence, stressed that agencies should be continually helping employees to develop new skills to keep up with the government’s evolving workforce needs.

“They need to empower the workforce themselves to look for opportunities, to have conversations with their boss or others about reskilling,” Goodrich said. “I think that when [OPM’s planned] employee digital record is up and running, one of the tools could be for career management, where you can see what it takes to become a [specific job title], to get to this salary level, and then they can start mapping that out for themselves.”

Reinhold said that, as with hiring authorities and recruitment and retention incentives, agencies must do a better job of using and promoting tools that are already at their disposal.

“Most agencies have online learning management systems where employees can access online courses and other resources,” he said. “But what we find is they aren’t always used as robustly as you would hope. In addition, there are other opportunities like federal academic alliances that OPM has with a number of colleges and universities that provide federal workers, their spouses and dependents access to college and degree training at reduced expense.”

The officials all had lofty goals for the planned employee digital record, which they said could make it easier for feds to transfer to new jobs within or across agencies, and could help agencies plan for the future. OPM has committed to begin development of the project by 2019.

“Candidly, HR lags compared to IT, financial management and procurement [in benchmark employee surveys],” Brown said. “We need to be honest about that and take proactive steps to begin to address that. We need to put more tools in the hands of our HR workforce, including automating part of the process that allows them to move up to being more of a strategic partner.”

Reinhold said the concept of a centralized database of feds and their skillsets could be used to better coordinate response to unforeseen incidents like natural disasters.

“Every time we have a natural disaster or an emergency, we ask, ‘Do we have people in government to deploy to help with this?’” he said. “Whether it’s a language skill or something like that, there’s currently no central place to find out which employees have that. This is an area with great potential to use as a way to deploy skills on a contingent and ad hoc basis way into the future.”

Erich Wagner is a staff correspondent covering pay, benefits and other federal workforce issues. He joined Government Executive in the spring of 2017 after extensive experience writing about state and local issues in Maryland and Virginia, most recently as editor-in-chief of the Alexandria Times. He holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

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