Take a Smarter Approach to Hiring, Upskilling Staff

With near-record-low levels of unemployment in the private sector, agencies can’t afford to rely on guesswork when it comes to competing for and retaining talent.

It’s not just a number game, focused on filling vacant positions. Instead, agencies need to find the right people for the positions they have now and to develop a talent pipeline to meet future needs.

Data is essential to every step of this process, from recruiting and hiring new employees to developing their skills and retaining them over the long haul.

That was the focus of a recent GovLoop virtual event, “Data-Driven Methods to Hire and Upskill Your Workforce.” Here are some key takeaways from that discussion.

Let Data Drive a New Culture 

The problem with personnel data, said Jessica S. Palatka, Director of Human Resource Management and Chief Human Capital Officer in the Department of Commerce, is that it’s a record of the past, of things that have already happened.    

And an agency’s past culture is not going to be its future. In recruitment, upskilling and retention, Palatka sees the need for something she calls “The Great Re-learning.”  

She recommends that agencies engaged in cross-generational recruiting become more holistic, analytical and forward-leaning in what they do with data, in order to reshape an agency’s environment. Shared data must include analysis, a plan for moving forward, and an effort to communicate findings inclusively, she said. 

“There’s a need, there is a desire, and there’s a purpose in why we’re collecting this data,” Palatka explained.    

Use Data to Anticipate Future Needs 

The old-school approach to hiring — scrambling to fill a newly vacant position as quickly as possible with someone whose skillset matches that of the employee who left — won’t cut it anymore. Instead, as Lori Michalski, Chief Human Capital Officer in the Department of Housing and Urban Development explained, you need to develop and deploy data about your workforce, their skills, and upcoming agency needs.  

“You don’t want to post for a carbon copy of the person leaving. Use your data to make sure you’re not just replacing someone, but actually hiring someone for the mission going forward.” 

And use external workforce data to inform your approach to building a culture that will attract and retain workers at different stages in their lives. “It’s so important to really understand the drivers of the different generations,” Michalski said. 

When You Can’t Compete on Salary, Offer Flexibility  

It’s important to shift your focus away from analyzing the past to anticipating the future, says Wonzie L. Gardner, Jr., Office Head and Chief Human Capital Officer at the National Science Foundations’ Office of Information and Resource Management.  

“Millennials and Gen Z-ers aren’t in it for the long haul,” he noted. But you can create an agency experience that makes them want to return.  

“Talent we want is going to learn skills in different places. We say the best employee is one that can go from one agency to another, and the best employee is one that can go out of government into industry and later come back in.”  

Especially at an agency like the NSF that’s competing for scientists, doctors, and others who can make more money in the private sector, offering flexibility can be the deciding factor in recruitment and retention. “Work-life balance is so important to millennials,” he said. “Remote work, hybrid work, supporting new parents, these are key for both recruiting and retention.” 

Use AI to Align Talent Supply, Demand 

One reason agencies have such trouble finding good job candidates is that hiring managers often do a poor job of articulating what they need, said Dan Hopkins, Vice President for Public Sector and Applied Artificial Intelligence (AI) at Eightfold, which makes AI-based talent management software. 

Job descriptions are often vaguely worded, leaving potential applicants to interpret (i.e., guess) what skills agencies are looking for and then assess their own ability to meet those needs, Hopkins said. 

AI can address this problem, he said. It can give agencies a better understanding of what skills they need, and it can help potential applicants do a better job of assessing their potential to fill a role.  

“There is a real opportunity to bring supply and demand in alignment, and that is through AI,” Hopkins said. 

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