How Can We Improve Position Classifications?

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by  Henry Brown 8 years, 1 month ago.

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  • #164348

    Steve Ressler

    Recently, I had the chance to talk to a senior government executive who is really interested in finding a new way to do position classifications in the federal government. There have been horror stories of urgently needing to hire someone, but not having the right classification available — a big problem when it can take a year to develop a new classification.

    Here’s how OPM describes the process (emphasis added):

    “The development of classification standards is an extensive and complex activity. The process begins with the identification of an occupational area for study and a request to agencies for background information regarding the occupation. After carefully reviewing this material, a standards writer visits many different locations recommended by agencies to gather information about the work. During the course of the study, many people who know about the occupation provide valuable input. Employees performing the work and their supervisors provide information on how the work is organized and performed. Managers and personnel specialists identify problems and issues concerning the occupation. Representatives of unions and professional groups provide information on their special points of view.

    “After a comprehensive analysis of all the material collected during the factfinding stage, a draft standard is developed and distributed to agencies and others for review, test application, and comment. Data received from the test application, together with these comments, are vital to the standards development process and form the basis for revisions to the draft.”

    There has to be a better way than spending up to a year using the time of HR specialists, employees, supervisors, union reps, and reviewers from agencies across government to hire employees to fill a new skill set void, when it arises. Would be great if you could share your ideas on how to change or improve the process, especially by using technology, below.

    How can we improve this? What ideas do you have for changing the way the government does position classifications? How can technology be used to speed up or change the process altogether?

  • #164364

    Henry Brown

    Make them generic enough that they will cover a rather wide range of skill sets…

    This has been done for years with the computer specialist position… If one had to wait a year to hire a IT specialist …OMG!…

  • #164362

    Mark Hammer

    The Canadian federal government attempted to develop a Universal Classification System in the late 1990’s that stumbled and never got off the ground. The Office of the Auditor General looked at it and published a report that you can find here:

    Somewhat of a different slant I suppose, but I sat in on sessions at the time where people in a variety of occupations were being asked to rate their positions along 14 different elements/dimensions. Personally, I thought the 14 elements were well-chosen, and quite comprehensive. As it happened, while the intiative was certainly well-intentioned, and even well thought-out, I think it had the misfortune of occurring at the wrong time in history. It happened a few short years after there had been a huge cutback in the size of the federal PS. One of the consequences of that was that a lot of remaining employees were asked to take on acting duties at a higher level than their substantive position, often without formal recognition or compensation. So when it came to aligning what the employees thought their jobs consisted of, and what their management said the job “officially” consisted of, there was not going to be much reconciliation between the two. And since the telecomm sector had not yet tanked, it seemed everybody knew someone in that sector who was making 2-3x as much as them with the same credentials.

    The inference I draw as that job classification systems are not just about work descriptions and categories (such as a job analysis, preparatry to posting a position, might entail), but always fundamentally about what people are entitled or obligated to, be it compensation, eligibility to apply for other kinds of jobs, etc. Once you enter into the realm of entitlements, there are a lot of stakeholders that get dragged into it, which necessarily lengthens the process, and may make it more adversarial. That’s not a complaint, but a logistical observation. And as my anecdote illustrates, what each stakeholder feels is necessary to wrangle out of the deal may depend on when you ask the question about classification.

    And since pay is often constrained by relatively narrow bands, different agencies may also use classification as a means of competing for staff. When I started in government, I was also teaching part-time. One of my T.A.s at the university, who was A.B.D. scored a position in another agency a level higher than mine, because that was the working level in that agency, and in mine the working level was one lower. Because the other agency required their staff to be in far-flung district offices, and work under unpleasant conditions, their ace in the hole to attract and retain people was to over-classify the position so they could compensate higher.

    Years ago in grad school, I was on a curriculum committee for our department. One of the things we had to do was vet new courses that would be entered into the university calendar. The course may be offered in a different department or even faculty, but it might be construed as a suitable prerequisite for one of ours, or demand one of ours as a prerequisite for the new course. Could it be treated as a suitable elective for our program? And on and on. Simply thinking about a new addition can be more complicated than you’d imagine, because, like I say, it generally traipses into the area of what it entitles and obligates people to.

    Bottom line? It’s not as easy as you’d think, and not easily soluble with “technology”.

  • #164360

    Steve Cottle

    It would be great if you could tag open positions with requisite skills/experience/training/etc, then match them with profiles of current personnel and/or new applicants, who would also be tagged with the skills, experience, and training they hold. It could be a good way to build a searchable database of skill-sets and a way to ensure applicants truly have the skills needed for an open position – not just that they fit into a vaguely defined classification that was the closest thing to representing the needs of an open position.

    This doesn’t get at the pay piece, but could be a start in getting people with the right skills into the right positions.

  • #164358


    There are way too many Federal position classifications. Trying to search for job openings based on position title alone is futile; I have to search for a key phrase within the position description to find the kind of job I am looking for, but even then, positions that do not fit what I am looking for (some not even remotely related) still show up in the search results.

  • #164356

    Andy Lowenthal

    I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to why we need a classification system. Compensation ought to be within ranges for one’s level (entry; journeyman; management and/or experienced; executive — or something like that).

    Can anyone explain the point of job series, aside from another layer of hiring headache?

  • #164354

    Carol Davison

    As an HR performance and development specialist this is how I understand classification. Classifying a position into a particular job series outlines what that position performs and at what level. It tells Hr to hire a Training Manger rather than a trainer and at what grade. It tells the applicant what they will do doing so they know if they are qualified for the position or interested. It helps recruiting determine which applicants are qualified and most qualified. As someone who knows that half of the people who apply aren’t qualified (which means we and they waste a lot of time on a non value adding activity), I would write more tightly written job vacancy announcements which would mean position descriptions would be more tightly written. Also, I personally am annoyed that I have to open many job announcements to determine if they are performance or development ones because their titles don’t communicate that informaiton. However the idea that it takes a year to classify a position seems too long to me.

  • #164352

    Julie Basile

    One idea to improve using classifications is to allow managers to put people into dual positions so the individual can get training in different functional area ultimately help them become more valuable to the organization. HR generally doesn’t support this idea, but there is nothing that says it cannot be done. An organization I worked with in the early 1990’s used this strategy extensively to accomplish downsizing. It let people stay employed and become flexible to go where we had the work. For example, someone who was a trained Moving Specialist at the Joint Personal Property Office also got trained as a Small Purchase Agent and when the moves stopped, the person went to work in the Contracting Department. A Small Purchase distribution specialist (no longer needed because of email and electronic document access) became trained as a fork lift driver to help with any surge in activity.

  • #164350

    Janina R. Harrison

    Generic enough may be the answer, but many jobs require very specific skills. I don’t think you can build a database of skill sets of current employees b ecause those would most likely contain only those jobs the person used to create their current resume.

    Right now, I work as a budget analyst, but I have many past lives in other positions that I would only use if I were applying for a specific job. As companies close, merge, are taken over, people move, etc., they may change career paths completely. The current trends in technology are changing skills requirements way faster than government classification could ever keep up with.

    Example: Secretaries/Administrative Assistants used to not be paid much. They answered phones, typed and filed. They still aren’t paid much in comparison to the skills they have to have. They have to learn many systems to do their various work. They do budget, payroll, HR actions, procurement, and deal with a wide range of staff, but their PDs still have minimal skill requirements and pay. Those PDs and pay have not kept up with the technology they use and what they do.

    Field staff used to just go out and take notes, stake out some quads for study. Now they have to be able to handle lots of test equipment, GPS, radios, emergency training.

    When you have to have so many people involved in the development process, it is obsolete by the time it is written and then they want to adhere to it and use it for the next 20 years.

    The process has to be more dynamic and responsive.

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