ReImagine Nation ELC 2020: Workplace Lessons Learned This Year Lead to Permanent Change

New Work Environments Mean New Hiring Practices

Hiring practices may also change now that more remote work is a proven option; federal officials have long said that allowing remote work will attract people who might not want to work for the government otherwise, and opens the talent pool to people who want federal jobs but don’t want to move to larger cities.

“We need to change our minds about how we look at people,” said Shila Cooch, director of IT policy in the Office of the Federal CIO. “We’re not just filling holes anymore.”

Prospective candidates are also looking for other forms of flexibility, she said, including job sharing, the ability to move easily from agency to agency and the chance to develop useful new skills that don’t always correlate to their current jobs.

A federal cyber reskilling program that launched in 2019 attracted about 1,500 applicants for 30 slots — a testament to the desire for new skills and additional training. 

“A lot of people who were interested in cyber reskilling just got into it because ‘cyber’ was a buzzword,” Cooch said. “They didn’t even know if they could do it. Turns out, they were excellent.”

While not all of those reskilled workers were able to move to new jobs — federal hiring practices and pay scale differences slowed down that process — government officials realized that training people they already had was still faster than hiring new talent.

With current employees, there’s no need for new security clearances or interviews, and “staff who are already part of the mission are more apt to jump to learn a new skill,” said Cooch.

LEARN MORE: How can technology help government adapt to the future of work?

Data Science Reskilling Attracts Federal Workers’ Interest

A new data science reskilling program, which launched in August, has attracted similar attention. The structure of the data program is different than the full-time cyber reskilling project; because the pandemic had put a strain on resources, trainees continue to do their day jobs at their current agency while taking virtual training eight hours a week. 

Cooch said that the plan is to develop a training program that can be sent to agencies so that they can do the reskilling themselves; that should enable more people to participate. Data science “is something that is a needed skill set in organizations,” she said. 

Deputy Federal CIO Maria Roat wants agencies to think even more broadly about ways to attract new talent and retain what they already have. One way to keep people on board, she said, is to improve the tools they have to work with.

New web pages running on outdated application programming interfaces, legacy equipment that can’t keep up with citizen demand — these things have to evolve, she said. 

“This year, CIOs did an incredible job,” she said, referring to the massive switch to telework as the pandemic began. “What was really clear, though, was that we have to do sustainable, long-term modernization. Without that, we’re holding agencies back.”

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