For at least three years government hiring managers have been lamenting the difficulty in attracting enough employees to government service positions, particularly in the tech community. In testimony before congress and in panel discussions, hiring officials have noted the lengthy federal time-to-hire, the slow-and-getting-slower security clearance process, and the need for more flexibility in the pay scales for in-demand fields.
And while the government has long been aware of the ongoing talent shortage, the latest headlines – from the announcement of Amazon’s new HQ2 headquarters in Crystal City, VA to the current government shutdown – are only making the job of federal and government contracting hiring managers more difficult. This complex and competitive hiring market was the focus of a recent webinar hosted by Federal Publications Seminars. In the first of a three-part series, The Hiring Crunch – How to Hire the Right Employees, panel members discussed the current state of federal hiring and what human resources professionals need to do to position their recruiting programs for success.
“Over the past several years we’ve flipped from it being a company’s market, where there was more talent than available positions, thanks to sequestration and budget cuts, to today, where in many cases federal hiring managers find there are only a handful of qualified professionals for each position and candidate poaching is the only way to acquire talent,” said Lindy Kyzer, senior editor of ClearanceJobs.com.
Webinar attendees reiterated the difficult state of today’s hiring market:
- 65% have more open positions than they did last year
- 61% said they’re not finding qualified candidates for their open positions
With more openings to fill, and not enough qualified candidates for openings, hiring managers have to get creative. Technical companies, in particular, have to look at hiring from both a strategic and tactical perspective, noted Leah Schmid, VP, human resources and administration at Delta Risk.
“We see a lot of behind the scenes activities among different departments, asking how are we going to be able to perform and execute the contract with the government,” said Schmid. HR is partnering with program managers, contracting officials, pricing and finance experts. Before a bid is even begun, the company knows the key positions they have to protect. This is particularly important in a time when many tech professionals are used to naming their salary, and the government is still trying to demand Lowest-Price-Technically-Acceptable work, notes Schmid.
“Candidates are the ones who absolutely can drive how much they’re willing to make. That requires creative solutions to fill these positions,” said Schmid.
ATTRACTING CANDIDATES ON CAMPUS
With a lot of focus on attracting entry-level and new grad talent, companies are becoming more aggressive in reaching out to colleges as a key part of their talent pipelining strategy.
“You need to build brand recognition and name recognition on campus,” said Sophia Marshall, job development specialist, government contracting, at George Mason University. “Consider a campus visit, or a job fair. You can do on campus interviews, or offer to give students a tour of your organization.”
Marshall highlighted a George Mason program called ‘Take a Patriot to Work Day.’ It allows companies to really give students a taste of what it would be like to work for the company, and take the workplace culture for a spin – which is useful to both the student and the employer. It also is another step of engagement on the employer side, noted Marshall, which is critical for today’s millennial and Generation Z hires.
WHAT SETS YOUR COMPANY APART?
Today’s candidates have options, and that means smart companies are setting themselves apart in order to attract them.
“Combat the mundane,” advises Schmid. “While people are focused on the mission, they’re also looking for variety.” This is particularly important for tech candidates. “The only way to make sure they’re staying up to date on their skills is to allow them to work on different projects.” This is key to letting them know they’re not just going to be “plopped on a contract and forgotten.”
In order to keep employees engaged, a number of companies are implementing internal mobility programs.
“For candidate’s today, the idea of spending a career with a company might not be appealing,” said Kyzer. “Internal mobility shows candidates how they can start a career with one company, but still have the opportunity to pursue a lot of different positions.”
As you onboard entry-level professionals, you can show them how they can advance both their careers and their skills with your company.
“Students want to know what their training is going to look like,” said Marshall. Things like rotational training programs allow new talent (or even seasoned professionals), to rotate through different offices and hone new skills. This will help with both employee retention and company competitiveness, as you add flexibility and new skills to your talent pipeline.
SHOW THEM THE BENEFITS
It’s also important to remember that people have personal lives, and any benefit program should keep in mind that candidates have multiple considerations behind whether or not they accept your position.
“In this Northern Virginia area, the commute is a huge consideration,” said Marshall. “That type of thing has to be taken into account, whether it’s hiring students, or senior professionals.”
Schmid noted she’s seeing a lot of emphasis on how to make employees feel recognized and appreciated, as well as things like philanthropic involvement. For younger workers, in particular, a job is not just a job. Candidates care about social events, and are asking, “how fun is the company that we’re working for?” said Schmid.
Practical benefits such as student loan assistance and family leave programs are also growing in interest. And while telework hasn’t quite caught on in government offices, the most important aspect is flexibility, notes Marshall – particularly in the high traffic Northern Virginia area.
Fortunately, these are just a few of the steps federal managers can take to help differentiate their companies and improve their pitches to coveted tech talent. Unfortunately, we likely haven’t seen the worst of federal hiring market conditions. 97% of hiring managers attending the webinar think today’s challenges with government hiring will continue.
Interested in more practical tips on hiring, employee retention and professional development? Sign up for the next two Federal Publications Seminars webinars on The Hiring Crunch – How to Onboard New Hires, Feb. 7 from 12-1 EST. and How to Retain Talent Through Continuing Professional Development, March 14 from 12- EST.