Over the past decade the men and women that filled critical skills positions in government have been retiring and as a result have taken a vast amount of knowledge with them. There have been efforts in some areas to recruit and fill those vacancies by increasing quotas or numbers at select agencies and departments.
To illustrate the drain of knowledge and experience occurring in our activities, I would like to share a story of a Length of Service ceremony I attended. At this ceremony, which occurred in 2014, the Commanding Officer presented certificates of service to 40 individuals that had served the public for an average of 35 years. The total years of service amounted to 1,400 years. At this location the next month they brought on board a new class of three hundred apprentices. In simple terms you can see the delta in know-how that must be bridged to make the new employees valuable in gaining skills to be successful.
It is not my intention or plea to have all agencies go on a massive hiring spree. It is vitally important that we examine those critical skills shortfalls being experienced and to set in motion a plan to fill them. The vitality and effectiveness of key agencies are in danger of falling short of meeting the mission the American public expects from their government.
There have been conversations in the halls of Congress to accurately assess what positions in government should be deemed inherently governmental. In having served in a military depot environment, I can attest that the skills for the repair sectors of our military services and sustainment of the required repair tempo are facing severe shortages in key artisan trades. In examining the challenges across government we could name several agencies that are facing similar challenges in meeting their critical needs shortages.
In examining some of the options available to us for meeting this need, an underlying obstacle that must be overcome is the current negative image of being a government worker. The examples of daily dedication and public service that occurs must be amplified to potential employees to show the true nature of the government workforce.
There are several avenues and solutions which are in place that can assist in the acceleration of meeting the critical skills shortage issue.
A starting point for this effort is the expansion of integrating those returning military personnel that are leaving the services and utilize them in those critical skills sets they possess. While progress has been made in this area, it can be examined to streamline the process of conversion from military service to public service.
Another area to examine is the expansion of established apprentice programs such as those in the Department of Navy and their public shipyards. These particular programs already have existing partnerships with their local community college programs to accelerate the filling of acute shortages. These programs could provide the model for agencies facing needs in computer, law enforcement, and medical services areas.
There needs to be a reestablishment of technical and skills training in the secondary education programs of our public schools. A lesson from history where an avenue of technical or trades training curricula were a path of choice for high school aged students must be re-energized through proper investment at the national, state and local levels. In conjunction with growth of this form of study should be a partnership with requiring government agencies to establish links and paths for the students to transition into their selected expertise or trade. A form of internship or student trainee path could be utilized for this initiative.
The future is now and we must act swiftly to address the skills shortages being faced. Many of you know those areas in your agency that need to be filled to keep the efficiency of government from further erosion. Those of us retired as well as our active civil servants should reach out to our legislators or representatives at all government levels to address this skills crisis.
While those 300 new hires mentioned above brought excitement, drive and energy to the workplace, we must provide them the time to grow and mature in their skill. The challenges facing us are great and a continued ignorance or delay in addressing them could endanger the present and future ability to remain the most powerful nation in the world.
Darryl Perkinson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
You have hit the nail on the head, to often a blind eye is turned to the reality of lost expertise or trade experience and the folks still there can not continue to take up the slack it take foresight and planning to correct this and people in charge that are willing to step up and make the change. Great Blog Darryl !
Thanks, Andy! There are many things we can choose as a government to fix. It has been refreshing to work with the apprentices and see their willingness to learn. If we could get Congress to fund the programs needed to build a skilled workforce it would be a step in the right direction.