Transformation of Government Recruiting Post Covid
With government hiring needs now surpassing pandemic and even pre-pandemic levels, many departments are now faced with the challenge of replenishing their workforces with new, diverse talent. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, government hiring is on the rise, with an average of 63,000 jobs added each month in 2023, more than double the number from the previous year.
As seasoned government employees retire, attracting new workers becomes even more critical. To navigate this changing landscape, government departments must rethink their hiring processes.
Government Workforces Continue to Grow
There are several reasons why government workforces are continuing to grow. Members of the Baby Boom generation – those born between 1946 and 1964 – are continuing their rapid, collective retirement. Many are now taking advantage of the retirement packages and early retirement incentive programs offered as part of public-sector employment to leave the workforce. The COVID-19 pandemic also changed how some workers view employment, and with continued concerns about health risks and well-being, some workers are pursuing other opportunities. At the same time, many departments and agencies postponed hiring during the pandemic, fueling the more recent surge in hiring opportunities.
Government Agencies are Hiring Now
According to the New York Times, the need for new government workers has become a critical issue. While the public-sector job opening rate is currently lower than that of the private sector, it hasn’t decreased as much from the post-covid 2022, leading to a sustained need for new hires. Post-COVID, many state and federal agencies also have funding to expand their services but need help finding the workers to fill these positions.
Government agencies are also challenged in ways that many private-sector employers are not. Strict regulations and procedures often surround government hiring practices, slowing the process. Multiple rounds of interviews, background checks, and security clearances may be required depending on the role. Specific civil service rules and regulations, designed to ensure fairness and transparency, can sometimes limit, or slow an agency’s ability to hire quickly. These factors can discourage new candidates from pursuing government job opportunities, particularly compared to the private sector, where hiring decisions are often made more quickly.
Reimaging the Hiring Process
One strong solution to this complex problem, say hiring experts, is reimagining the hiring process. This includes prioritizing “soft skills,” which refer to personal attributes, personality traits, and interpersonal qualities that enable individuals to interact effectively and harmoniously with others in the workplace. Soft skills are more intangible than technical or hard skills, which are specific and measurable abilities related to performing tasks or job functions. They are not tied to any profession or industry. Instead, soft skills are transferable and valuable in almost any job or life situation.
Soft skills are essential for job candidates because they determine how well an individual can work with colleagues, communicate ideas, handle conflicts, and adapt to changing work environments. These skills are fundamental in team-oriented workplaces, telework environments, customer-facing roles, leadership positions, and any job that requires collaboration and communication. Excellent interpersonal skills may make up for the lack of technical skills in many scenarios where a candidate is trainable.
The traditional hiring approach has focused on what education and experience candidates can provide. However, this skill set often does not represent how successful the candidate will be in a role. To help address worker shortages, some departments and agencies are providing new hires with the technical skill sets needed for their jobs rather than the education and experience they bring to their new roles. Several agencies have removed the requirement for candidates to have earned college degrees as an employment condition. This approach is also helpful in recruiting candidates who have well-rounded skill sets. Government employers can customize training needed to ensure employment success for suitable candidates, regardless of their background and education.
According to a recent Gallup poll, job seekers prioritize employment opportunities that offer stability and job security. Government jobs traditionally offer this, and departments can work to make this connection for job seekers. Government employers cannot always compete on pay rates, so they must get creative and focus on areas where they excel. Potential focus areas include supporting employee well-being through telework and inclusivity programs, which tend to be strong in government workplaces.
Another way to recruit and retain workers is to emphasize a continuous training curriculum. This approach keeps employees’ skills current and ensures competency when new skills are required. It is also an excellent approach to ensuring employees are current on any regulatory changes affecting their job duties. Continuous training also invests in workers, improving retention efforts and job satisfaction as it helps employees feel valued.
How will Telework/Remote Work Fit?
According to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), half of all government employees are eligible for telework. This approach to work, including hybrid options, is of great interest to many federal employees and job seekers. It also benefits government employers: with fewer on-site workers daily, agency real estate footprints can shrink, and physical workspaces can become more efficient and streamlined.
While not all government jobs can be adapted to the telework scenario, offering this flexibility helps government agencies compete with many more private-sector employers. Existing government workers prove this point: a 2023 survey of more than 500 federal, state, and local government workers found that 59% of those with remote or hybrid work options say their job satisfaction and productivity would decrease if in-person work was mandated. More importantly, 45 percent of those surveyed said they would seek other employment if the telework framework was eliminated.
Future of Government Work
At the federal level, several positive changes are occurring. The OPM has created a new five-point strategy for becoming a model employer. This new approach emphasizes, among other things, hybrid/telework options, resources and training, technical assistance, and stakeholder engagement.
The OPM recognizes the need for improved hiring practices. It is also placing a new emphasis on providing resources to help agencies and departments hire more quickly and offer the necessary training and resources that ensure employment success. Similar efforts are also designed to increase the retention of existing employees. Prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts is also helping connect government agencies with a deeper and broader candidate pool to ensure that all strong candidates are considered.
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