Federal workforce trends in 2015: Finding and keeping the right talent is top priority

Commentary by Susan Fallon
Vice president for Global Strategy and Business Development
Monster Government Solutions

It’s a critical time for our federal workforce. The need for specialized skills and experience, particularly in the fields of cybersecurity, procurement, data science and public healthcare, has never been greater. And yet 2015 hiring projections are conservative, with proposed legislation such as the Federal Workforce Reduction Through Attrition Act potentially limiting the amount of new personnel that agencies can add. Combined with budget constraints, federal retirement waves and the challenge to attract and retain millennials, 2015 begins to look like a pivotal year for federal human capital.

Susan Fallon, Monster Government Solutions

With that in mind, here are three workforce trends we might want to watch for in 2015.

Agencies will get proactive about engaging tech talent.

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The federal government possesses more digital information than ever before and amasses much more each day, requiring agencies to build workforces skilled in analyzing and protecting that data. President Barack Obama has been dubbed the first “Cyber War President.” This cyber age calls for an influx of IT security professionals and data scientists. For example, the U.S. Cyber Command is slated to receive a 500-percent manpower increase and the FBI is recruiting Silicon Valley tech experts to fill cybersecurity openings. But how can the federal government find and attract the best tech talent with so much competition and opportunity in the private sector?

An important first step is to engage with talent where they live online. Today’s technology experts do not need to spend their evenings surfing job boards. They are highly sought and often well employed in the private sector. While they are less likely to be proactively responding to federal job postings, it doesn’t mean these professionals are not open to new employment opportunities.

To attract the next generation of federal technology leaders, agency outreach must become far more proactive in 2015. First, federal recruiters must engage with potential recruits where they already operate, whether that is on a social coding website like GitHub or a technical service forum like Stack Overflow. And second, federal recruiters can better target and recruit top candidates by using new applicant search technologies, which have evolved to identify skills-focused social profiles.

Agencies will offer millennials career paths, not just jobs.

Office of Personnel Management data reveals that millennials make up only 16 percent of the total federal workforce. With nearly half of federal employees approaching retirement age, it is imperative that agencies recruit and retain future leaders from the millennial generation to fill potential talent and skills gaps. To do so, agencies must strengthen their millennial engagement tactics.

The good news is that millennials are attracted to public service and seek jobs that have a positive impact on society. But the challenge with attracting millennials is not only about recruiting — it is also about retention. What millennials want — and what agencies need to offer if they hope to attract and retain this young talent — are clearly defined progression paths, professional development and training options, and growth and leadership opportunities. In other words, millennials who work for, or want to work for, the federal government are seeking careers, not just jobs.

As government programs embrace new workplace trends, millennials will be more excited to pursue extended federal careers, ensuring that leadership positions left open by today’s retirees will be filled with accomplished and passionate young talent. Recruiters and managers must effectively communicate the distinction and value that federal employment offers during all stages of the employment process.

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Agencies will rely more on competencies for workforce planning.

In 2015, agencies will continue to need the most out of the skills, knowledge and experience of their existing personnel. This starts with knowing what competencies the workforce already possesses. What if, for example, a new procurement analyst codes in their spare time? If coding was not discussed during recruitment or onboarding, team leaders would have no way of knowing that they had any specialized IT background at all.

A recent study from the Government Business Council and Monster Government Solutions found that 70 percent of those surveyed relied on informal methods for workforce planning, including hand-written notes, white boards and blank spreadsheets, and 34 percent stated that their agencies did not gather data on competencies at all. Not surprisingly, the study also revealed that 80 percent of managers agreed or strongly agreed that up-to-date information on competencies would improve their ability to manage personnel, including staff changes and reductions.

The shift from manual workforce planning processes to automated solutions, which are already being used effectively by large private corporations, will provide managers with unprecedented insight into the competencies of their current workforce so that they can tackle projects more efficiently—helping to streamline career mapping, succession planning, position classification, personnel action requests and payroll operations.

The year ahead

The federal workforce is dedicated to strengthening, protecting and serving our nation. In these dynamically changing times, finding and keeping the right talent is of critical importance. Agencies can ensure they have the workforce skills necessary to meet future missions by proactively recruiting tech talent, retaining millennials, and automating competency gathering processes. If started now, 2015 will be remembered for its bold and important steps in federal human capital management.


Susan Fallon is the vice president for global strategy and business Development for Monster Government Solutions.