Nimble, flexible and innovative.
These aren’t words typically associated with the federal hiring process — and for many reasons. For those who have endured what can be a months-long waiting game, you know the frustrations of navigating USAJobs.gov, matching your qualifications to federal job announcements and then hoping to hear good news from an agency.
But having to wait for a start date even after an offer is made has deterred some of the best and brightest from entering public service. Those are the types of losses the government can’t afford, especially when hiring for critical positions like cybersecurity.
Depending on which estimate you choose to believe, there is a shortage of nearly 1 million cyber professionals nationwide, and the federal government owns a share of that deficit, Beth Cobert, Acting Director for the Office of Personnel Management, said during the annual Symantec Government Symposium in Washington, D.C., last month. “We are working hard to address it.”
“We think the flexibilities that already exist in cyber allow us to do this in a way that can not only succeed in the realm of cyber but help be a model for the way we want to innovative across the federal hiring space,” Cobert added.
In past six month of this fiscal year, the federal government hired 3,000 cyber and IT professionals. By January 2017, agencies to expect to hire another 3,500. As the president’s people person, Cobert and her team at OPM are working to help agencies master the tools and processes at their disposal to meet the government’s talent needs.
She outlined several steps the government is taking to attract, retain, develop and recruit cybersecurity professionals, some of which are outlined in the Federal Cybersecurity Workforce Strategy released in July.
Recruiting young professionals
- OPM’s recruitment and hiring team is collaborating with colleges and universities that have large, diverse populations, who may be unaware of opportunities in federal service. OPM estimates that minorities comprise 32 percent of the federal cyber workforce, and women account for 25 percent
- The president’s fiscal 2017 budget includes funds to expand the CyberCorps Scholarship for Service program. The program provides scholarships for students at select four-year colleges and universities, in exchange for federal service. Some 2,000 scholars have graduated from the program, and 97 percent were placed in government positions.
- OPM is encouraging students and recent grads to try out federal service through the Pathways Programs, which offer internships for students. There’s also the Presidential Management Fellows program, a leadership development opportunity for entry-level candidates with professional or graduate degrees. PMF has a separate track for STEM fields, and there are plans to create a cyber track.
Recruiting professionals who are further along in their careers
- In July, OPM partnered with DHS to hold a cyber and tech job fair. Agency officials conducted more than 700 interviews for 300 critical positions. There were managers and supervisors onsite who made offers on the spot. Once candidates were selected, there were people in place to help them start the security clearance process.
- Even before the fair, OPM worked with DHS to frame job opportunity announcements that would attract the right talent.
- Gone are the days when people join organizations with intentions of staying there for decades. Cobert used herself as an example, noting that her time at McKinsey was essentially a series of two-year stints that she did 13 times. “That’s how many of us think about careers,” she said. “I stayed because I had great opportunities to have impacts [and] take on new roles.” Government is working on hiring and talent development policies that will make it easier for cyber professionals to build skills inside the federal government and gain expertise as they move to different sectors.
Developing and retaining current talent
- The annual Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey makes clear that government employees are eager for training and education opportunities. In response, OPM has signed agreements with colleges and universities over the past two years to provide discounted tuition to federal employees and their families. University of Maryland University College and Champlain College are among the schools on the list, and both offer a strong cyber curriculum. So far, 5,200 federal employees and their families have benefited from tuition discounts, collectively saving more than $12 million.
- The government also wants to encourage rotational opportunities across federal agencies, particularly in cybersecurity. Cobert noted that OPM benefited from the support of multiple agencies in the wake of the devastating breaches that came to light in 2015. “We learned from them, and they learned from us,” she said of the collaboration.
- OPM is working with the Defense Department to develop excepted cyber civilian hiring arrangements that mirror the intelligence field. Excepted service authorities enable agencies to streamline hiring and bypass traditional competitive hiring procedures when they aren’t feasible.
- Cobert and her team are working on new sets of government credentials that would use gamification and other tools to promote and recognize critical cyber workforce skills. For example, if someone is an Army Ranger or a Navy SEAL, you know what that means in terms of quality. The government wants to build a similar framework for cyber defenders, warriors and investigators.