What’s in the Works for the Federal Cyber Workforce?

From building partnerships and pipelines with schools and universities, to moving jobs out of the Washington metro area, to reworking the security clearance process, agencies are employing a wide variety of strategies to combat the hiring and retention crisis currently plaguing public service.

At FedScoop/WorkScoop’s recent Workforce Summit, several experts spoke about how their respective agencies are changing practices to address the evolving needs of the federal cyber workforce. Here are the key takeaways from three of the speakers, along with some strategies they shared.

Office of the Director for National Intelligence (ODNI)

Sherry Van Sloun, Acting Assistant Director of National Intelligence for Human Capital, discussed a series of initiatives the intelligence community (IC) is exploring to better its methods of recruiting and retaining employees.

One challenge that the initiatives seek to address is that many jobs in the IC require employees to relocate to the Washington metro area and that their work must be completed within a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). This can be a deal breaker for candidates in the job market who are receiving competitive offers. Van Sloun explained that the IC is attempting to eliminate this requirement, saying, “If there’s unclassified work, doing code work, if it can be done in an unclassified space, let’s partner with our partners across the country … and force the workforce of the future to be across the country and maybe not just in one location.”

Another obstacle to talent recruitment and retention is the notoriously lengthy process of obtaining a security clearance. To address this, the IC is attempting to enhance the process with automation. Van Sloun explained that the focus of the initiative is, “How do we throw automation into that process and technology to help us do it faster, better and keep that talent with us, because we lose a lot of talent if you have to wait 18 months to two years to get a clearance. We’re losing really good people.”

Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency (CISA)

The current workforce gap facing the federal government is a major concern that urgently needs addressing. This concern was echoed by Deputy Assistant Director of Cybersecurity at CISA Rick Driggers, who said the gap is, “approaching national security issue levels.”

One way many agencies seek to shorten the gap is by partnering with various educational institutions to create career pipelines. While there are a multitude of partnerships between government and higher education, Driggers expressed his desire to expand these programs to earlier levels of education as well, saying “We’ve got to start this [from] K-12 and bring this up.” Driggers also proposed tapping talent pools outside of education altogether: “Maybe there’s a senior in high school that doesn’t want to go to college” he said, “So how do we get that kid into a cybersecurity track?” Driggers remarked that creating cyber trade schools or vocational programs similar to those that exist for electricians and plumbers could be a huge help in expanding recruitment and closing the workforce gap.

United States Digital Service (USDS)

Andréa Viza, Director of Talent at USDS, suggested that federal hiring managers change their approach to the hiring process in general. “I hate the phrase ‘post and pray,’” Viza said, “because that does not work.” Instead, she shared her view that personalizing the HR process in government would be really helpful and go a long way. She also recommended that agencies form teams that specialize in recruiting and making personal connections with job candidates.

Viza went on to share some of her own experiences with this strategy, saying, “It takes multiple touches, sometimes it takes years to convince someone to come and join us, so just reiterating the work, the impact, all of that is really what ultimately brings someone to D.C. to join us.”

She also expressed that this personalized process shouldn’t immediately stop after hiring, and that part of creating a great culture and candidate experience includes being there through new employees’ onboarding and emphasizing to them, “This is going to be a little painful, but I’m here, share your grievances with me, I’m here to listen and help you through.”


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