It’s no secret that the federal government is currently in the midst of a massive skills shortage and facing the impending blow of a mass exodus by a rapidly aging workforce. A 2017 POLITICO report found that more than a quarter of federal employees are over the age of 55 and within a decade of retirement. Even further, despite the urgent need to bolster the federal workforce, agencies have gotten progressively worse at hiring and filling open positions over the last five years, according to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
While hiring new employees is undoubtedly a key component of the solution for the government’s workforce troubles, agency leaders would be remiss to overlook opportunities to retain, empower and upskill their current employees. With nearly 56 percent of the current civilian federal workforce under the age of 50, it’s likely that agency leaders have thousands of employees interested in growing their careers. These employees could also help solve the government’s staffing issues.
Most agencies have the tools and resources readily available to support employee development, but often lack the right approach when it comes to internally developing talent. Throughout my 15 years of managerial experience across sectors, including a decade in the federal civilian contracting world supporting OPM, I’ve come to find that having effective programs and processes in place can spell the difference between workforce woes and staffing success.
Here are three tips for the federal government that look at how agencies can address their growing workforce shortages by supporting the professional growth of current employees.
Mentorship and Coaching
A 2016 Human Capital Trends study found that 85 percent of executives rate engagement as an important or very important priority for their business. One of the best ways to engage employees is through mentorship and coaching programs. When employees have individualized, one-on-one attention from their leaders, they can overcome obstacles, identify their professional goals and become in tune with the overall mission of their team.
By offering mentorship and coaching opportunities, federal agencies ensure their employees feel engaged and are continuously working toward new goals. This practice not only improves employee satisfaction and retention but also boosts productivity and reduces boredom.
Communication and Personal Development
At the end of the day, federal employees are humans, too. For agencies to improve retention, they must ensure that they are using a holistic approach to employee development.
At the core of employee development is open communication. By opening the door for two-way communication, employees feel more in control of the path their career is taking and develop a sense of value from agency leadership.
Beyond consistent communication, it’s essential that federal agencies work to adopt policies that enable personal development in today’s connected society. Benefits like telework, personal health investments and continuing education are proven to have a positive impact on employee retention. For example, a Florida International University study found that workers who teleworked more frequently received higher job-performance ratings from their managers.
Cross-Departmental Training and Upskilling
Cross-departmental training and upskilling are two practices that will prove to be extremely beneficial for the federal government. Cross-departmental training isn’t likely to lead to career shifts, but it does increase efficiencies and has a positive impact on overall employee satisfaction.
Upskilling takes cross-departmental training to the next level by providing tailored opportunities for current employees to gain the skills needed to assume a different role within the agency. It’s a practice that agencies are beginning putting to use. Most recently, the White House announced the launch of the Federal Cybersecurity Reskilling Academy that will provide 25 non-technical federal employees with hands-on cybersecurity training needed to become cyber defense analysts. In many cases, potential talent is already sitting in the office.
As the younger generation becomes the majority of the workforce, the government will continue to face an uphill battle in attracting, hiring and retaining necessary talent. The challenge for all employers moving forward will be how to keep employees fulfilled while simultaneously reducing turnover and retaining top talent. It’s important now more than ever that the federal government leverages the most effective employee development techniques to encourage career advancement in an effort to satisfy staffing gaps.
Jennifer Bonner is Director at Solutions By Design II, LLC.
I’ve definitely been hearing more about upskilling in government, especially for cybersecurity roles. It will be interesting to see how this trend continues.