How skills-based hiring enhances national security

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COMMENTARY | A forthcoming policy promises to broaden the federal talent pool, alleviate talent shortages and improve employee retention, but there's more to be done right now.

In the face of escalating reports of potential threats on our nation’s critical infrastructure, addressing the cyber talent gap and equipping the federal workforce with the necessary skills has become imperative. The White House has made strides in this direction, most recently announcing a shift in educational requirements for the federal IT workforce, prioritizing candidate skills over credentials. Over the next year, the Office of Personnel Management will be converting over 100,000 federal titles to skills-based hiring, revolutionizing the landscape for the prospective federal workforce. 

This soon to be policy ushers in a transformative era for federal personnel, promising not only greater equality in the hiring process and broadening the talent pool, but also alleviating talent shortages and improving employee retention. 

Challenges still ahead, despite new hiring policy

However, this new federal policy is not expected to be implemented until the summer of 2025, leaving ample time for threat actors to target vulnerable sectors. The federal government can’t afford such a delay.  A recent report revealed that the gap between the number of cybersecurity professionals needed and those qualified grew by nearly 13%t from the year prior, with four million new workers needed to close it. These statistics alone underscore the pressing need for the policy to be implemented now – not a year from now. 

While the shift towards skills-based hiring represents a commendable endeavor, the private sector has already embraced this approach. Moreover, the federal government also lags behind the private sector in retaining talent, exacerbating the workforce challenge. Despite this reality, there are resources that the White House can include in the new skills-based hiring policy that is set to roll out next year.

Expand opportunities for growth

Expansion of grants, funding, and training opportunities is paramount. In April 2024, House and Senate lawmakers introduced legislation aimed at providing state and local employment programs with grants focused on improving their digital skills gap. There should be legislation introduced at the federal level that mirrors these efforts. Ensuring access to grants and training across agencies will not only widen the talent pool but also provide opportunities for federal employees at various skill levels. 

Similar steps have already been taken. In March 2024, the White House issued an executive order aimed at expanding the federal agencies’ use of the Labor Department’s registered apprenticeship programs. These apprenticeship programs offer individuals paid positions, classroom experience and other benefits as federal apprentices gain skills – aiming to remove barriers to full time employment. 

Agencies can also leverage public-private partnerships. Despite the competition with the private sector, public-private partnerships can present a valuable opportunity for talent development and technology exposure. For example, the Air Force runs an Education with Industry program that provides hands-on learning within the private sector. Partnerships like these foster stronger relationships and talent sharing between the federal government and private sector.

Protecting our nation’s assets starts now

While it can be difficult to compete with the private sector, the federal government can adopt a proactive stance in showcasing the unique opportunities and societal impact working in the public sector can provide. While skills-based hiring enhances our nation’s security, more is needed. In addition to skills-based hiring, the new policy must incorporate elements of private sector benefits, expand opportunities for growth, and maximize public-private partnerships. The government must do everything it can do to provide federal employees with the benefits and resources they need and deserve – after all, protecting our nation’s assets is no small task.