Many Americans Want to Join Civil Service Until It’s Time to Apply

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A commission on public service wants to figure out what parts of the federal hiring process deter potential employees.

To usher the next generation of American talent into public service, agencies need to modernize application pathways, increase internships and on-ramps at the university level, and help people better understand federal hiring processes and job-search sites, a panel of policy experts said Wednesday.

The National Commission on Military, National and Public Service is a bipartisan commission tasked with holistically reviewing the Selective Service System and military, national, and public service. Over the past year, the commission has traveled around the country learning how to inspire more Americans to serve and holding hearings on the topic. The commission will later create recommendations for Congress, the president and the American public by March 2020.

At Wednesday’s hearing, most commissioners expressed concern because Americans across the nation said they want to work in civil service but found themselves less inclined to when it comes to apply for a job. Commissioners heard that potential applicants don’t understand how to apply for positions, job sites like USAjobs.gov are not intuitive to use, or agencies were not responsive, leaving applicants feeling forgotten.

“When it involves public service, candidly, we heard how recruiting and hiring practices are significantly out of touch with the realities of the modern workforce,” Mark Gearan, a vice-chair of the commission, said.

Kimberly Holden, the Office of Personnel Management’s deputy associate director of employee services, talent acquisition and workforce shaping, said OPM is actively working to help agencies build a stronger workforce. She noted that “the most common barrier” is the time it takes for agencies to hire new employees, so OPM is working to help agencies implement more robust applicant assessment tools and introduce new hiring systems.

She also said OPM offers training sessions for agency hiring managers and is working to reduce the burdens applicants face by frequently working to improve the USAjobs site.

While OPM sends representatives out on the road to recruit and educate universities about options around civil service, Holden said many agencies don’t have the resources to actively recruit a new workforce.

“Not all agencies are funded in the same way and so not all agencies have the ability to have separate recruitment teams [or] do the outreach for themselves,” she said.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Chief Policy Officer Melissa Bryant noted that for veterans to enter the workforce at a mid-career level, there needs to be clear trajectories for them to excel. She also said that recent government shutdowns and sequestrations have been problematic in terms of hiring.

“It’s definitely been a burden that [Defense and Veterans Affairs departments] especially felt around bringing on new talent,” she said.

Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, stressed that there needs to be more internships and partnerships between agencies and universities to rein in and test out new talent.

“We are lacking a generational diversity in the government and that's fundamental to the health of the government right now and the future,” Stier said. “I also think it prevents challenges in the ability to actually recruit and hold talent when you don’t have a critical mass of young people in any of the organizations.”

In response to the panelists, commissioners noted that there seems to be a “disconnect” between the fixes agencies believe they are making and the issues that continue to deter American’s from entering positions of civil service.

“We should focus our attention to fix where this disconnect is, between where the general public believes we are and where we as institutions believe we are,” Debra Wada, a vice-chair of the commission, said. “I’m trying to drill into this problem because we hear it everywhere we go across this country and it has not changed.”