Government hiring managers are feeling the strain of multiple forces, including federal budget cuts, the push for data and transparency and an aging workforce, according to the chief human capital officers at the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs.
The chief human capital officers at the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Education spoke on workforce challenges before an event sponsored by Government Executive, with support from ClearanceJobs.com. The leaders spoke with optimism about the progress made in key areas within their organizations, but acknowledged obstacles, as well.
“I would say the workforce is under considerable pressure,” said John Sepulveda, Assistant Secretary for Human Resources and Administration and Chief Human Capital Officer at the VA. He went on to say that in some areas government workers are viewed as a punching bag, with continued pay freezes and criticism of benefits putting a damper on morale.
Despite the budget crunch, both organizations have invested new resources into educating their personnel, which each agreed was key to maintaining a qualified, motivated workforce. Sepulveda said they’ve reached 90 percent of the VA’s workforce with professional development classes, a tempo he acknowledged would be difficult to maintain in the face of cuts.
While training is a key element in retention, human capital officers are still working to attract new talent. With record numbers of baby boomers heading into retirement in the next several years, attracting younger workers will be critical across federal agencies, even as a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows just 2.3 percent of college students plan to work in the federal government after graduation.
Robert Buggs, Chief Human Capital Officer and Director of Human Resources Services at the Department of Education said he doesn’t think the federal government is an unattractive career for young people – even his own children have expressed a desire to work in the government. But he did note that the government needs to better market itself, as well as train human resources staff to make the best hires.
“You have to make sure you get the right people and you hire them as quickly as possible,” said Sepulveda. “Even in this tough economy, good people go fast. They are not going to wait around for three, four, five months for us to hire.”
Time-to-hire pressures come even as government offices are seeing more applicants for each position, as a result of the economic downturn.
Overall it will be a challenging 2012 for federal human resources practitioners, who will be balancing implementing new initiatives such as telework while maintaining a federal workforce expected to see a great deal of turnover in the coming months.