Strategic Human Capital Planning: Recruiting and Retaining New Federal Employees: Federal Agencies Are Using New Strategies, Programs, and Techniques to Attract the Next Generation of Civil Servants

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The Public Manager and the American Society for Public Administration hosted their first annual conference on government transformation in Baltimore, Maryland, July 28-29, 2008. The conference theme was Transforming Bureaucratic Cultures: Challenges and Solutions for Public Management Practitioners. Members of the panel, New Demographics and Recruiting and RetainingYoung Professionals, discussed strategies for recruiting and retaining college graduates in the federal service and highlighted the parallel crises federal agencies are facing: an imminent mass exodus of 35-50 percent of employees eligible for retirement and the inability of agencies to attract college graduates to federal employment. Myriad topics were discussed in addressing these parallel issues, all underscoring the need for agencies to take immediate actions to attract and retain a new generation of talent.

Federal agencies are finding it difficult to attract and retain college graduates for two primary reasons. First, young people today are less attracted to federal employment than the generations before them. They feel private-sector positions offer more challenges and greater extrinsic and intrinsic rewards than federal service. Second, and most important, federal agencies are faced with obstacles inherent to the civil service system, including salary caps, slow hiring processes, and unique rules and regulations that deter some applicants from applying for federal positions and greatly frustrate others once they do apply.

Strategic Human Capital Management Planning

Agencies can overcome these obstacles by developing a strategic human capital management plan that describes tailored recruitment and retention strategies. The plan should outline executable actions--tactical (in 1-4 years) and strategic (in 5-10 years)--and contingency strategies, resource requirements (personnel and financial), and risks. The plan should be developed after an agency self-assessment to obtain answers to the following three questions: Where are we now? Where are we going? How will we get there?

It should outline the agency's current situation in terms of employee levels by department and job series compared with expected personnel requirements over each of the next ten years. It should also include a situational analysis of personnel requirements compared with the agency's partners (customers, suppliers, and other agencies), competition (private and public), technology, current labor market, economy, and regulatory environment. The "How will we get there?" question is answered by developing clear goals and objectives and outlining them along a structured path to achievement. This includes an outline of the agency's target population for improving, replacing, and increasing personnel levels.

Plan Structure

Table 1 shows the sections of the strategic human capital management plan, which should be detailed enough to answer the associated questions. The sections are interconnected and result from a top-down development.

Plan Execution

Developing and executing the strategic plan require various actions, which are not the sole responsibility of the human resources department. All parts of the organization, including operations, finance, human resources, and systems, should participate. A dedicated team should draft the plan, which should be given to each component of the agency for comment, endorsed by upper management, and finally signed by the head of the agency. The human capital plan should be integrated as a key component of the agency's overall strategic plan and published for agency-wide distribution.

The human resources specialists who help execute the plan should be certified professionals and receive continual training. Managers and supervisors must be thoroughly trained on the plan and in strategies to ensure its effective implementation, including personnel planning, human resources management, communication, feedback, and managing diversity. …