VA Centers Talent Recruitment and Remote Work in Its Operations Revamp 

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The agency’s chief people officer described efforts to attract high-skilled workers affected by layoffs across the tech sector and expand telework opportunities to modernize tech-centric operations.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to transform its approach to workforce development by actively recruiting outside talent and shifting to a more remote-friendly environment that favors enhanced flexibility, a senior VA official said during a keynote address at the GovExec Workforce Summit on Tuesday.

Nathan Tierney, the chief people officer at VA’s Office of Information and Technology—or OIT—highlighted the department’s ongoing efforts to recruit workers displaced by widespread layoffs across the tech industry in recent months, noting that “we've had an incredible opportunity to welcome more skilled technologists into our workforce due to the recent layoffs in Silicon Valley and other tech sectors.”

Tierney previously spoke with Nextgov in November about VA’s efforts to hire laid off tech workers, noting at the time that the department was reaching out to available talent, launching an expanded careers webpage and highlighting some of the perks that employees would receive at the VA—including the opportunity to work remotely and efforts to boost salary rates. In a follow-up interview last month, Tierney said the recruitment drive helped VA fill roughly 25% of the approximately 1,000 tech-related vacancies across the department. 

This ongoing effort to inject new talent into the VA is also needed to address some of the department’s upcoming workforce and talent challenges. Tierney noted that the average age of OIT’s workforce is 50 years old, with nearly 30% of the office’s employees currently eligible for retirement. 

As part of the VA’s effort to entice workers coming from the private sector, as well as to take advantage of teleworking opportunities spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, the department is placing a greater emphasis on filling these types of more flexible roles. Tierney said VA has “now moved 63% of our OIT employees to working remotely,” adding that “if we fail to adapt to how we attract and develop employees, it can negatively impact VA’s mission.”

“We just cannot afford to let good people go, which is why we've got to focus on people,” he added. “We've also seen throughout the pandemic—and now that we've shifted more to remote work—that 44% of our OIT employees are actually working more than their normal duty hours, mainly because of the flexibility that is offered through our telework and remote work statuses.” 

Tierney said these efforts—including continued scrutiny of the VA’s internal workings to meet the needs of its employees—align with VA’s overall goal of attracting and retaining workers that will be with the department for the long haul. He noted that 40% of departing employees  “cited a lack of career progression development as a reason for leaving” the department, which he said has “fundamentally changed how we approach our competencies now.”

“We are completely revamping our career tracks to make them easily understood, and to invest in their development at each stage of the way, because the mission of uniting those people around a passion, a purpose, of serving veterans, requires it.”