The vision: Historians look back on this time as the glory days of change in the
government, a time when the president mandated streamlined programs, agencies complied and governmentwide transformation bloomed. Dense layers of bureaucracy became permeable and innovation bubbled up. Citizens received better service, the cost of government fell, agencies became employers of choice and information technology powered it all.
ThatÂs the blueprint, at least, of the
E-Government Act of 2002.
And it will remain nothing more than a blueprint, say some human capital experts, without workforce planning strategies that look beyond narrowly defined skills and fannies in seats.
Most workforce plans miss the opportunity to drive transformation, says Rebecca Jones, consulting director for IT consultancy Gartner of Stamford, Conn. ÂWorkforce planning is more than getting the right person in the right place at the right time,Â Jones says.
But it doesnÂt have to be that way. Not if agencies make use of plans in five smart ways:
- First, focus on the competencies the agency will need rather than merely specific job skills, which job descriptions typically define.
- Second, reach out to educational institutions relative to workforce needs.
- Third, account for the type of technology expertise required and make sure that training plans mesh with those needs.
- Fourth, include what-if scenarios so that the plan is easily adaptable to changes in areas such as legislative requirements or economic factors.
- Fifth, tie workforce plans to desired mission results.
ÂWe find that itÂs not the skills but the competencies that a person brings into an organization that are the real differentiators of performance,Â Jones explains. ÂSkills can be acquired through training; itÂs the behaviors and attitudes that people bring to the job that really serve them well.Â
The Government Accountability Office has been advising agencies to do this as well. ÂHigh-performing organizations use competencies which define the skills and supporting behaviors that individuals need to effectively contribute to organizational results,Â according to David M. Walker, comptroller general.
In recognizing that difference, federal human capital professionals can help engineer the transformation of government, Jones says.
ÂWe need to look at what the profile, in terms of competencies, is of the kind of person we need to make that a reality,Â she says. ÂWe need someone whoÂs an innovative thinker, whoÂs creative and flexible. Those are competencies, as opposed to skills. Agencies can identify them, define them and hire based on them.Â
A scan of governmentwide workforce planning efforts doesnÂt inspire JonesÂs confidence. ÂA concern I have about the process is whether itÂs as forward-thinking as it needs to be in light of some of the things that are going to affect the workforce in the near future,Â she says.
One exception is the Energy Department, now engaged in a five-year workforce-restructuring plan. Jeff T.H. Pon, EnergyÂs chief human capital officer, says the government needs to foster policies that affect education Â down to the elementary school level Â to help create the next generation of IT-savvy civil servants.
ÂWe need to systematically look at the workforce all the way from sixth-graders doing algebra to make sure that they can do the science, that they have the science bowls, the scholarships, the encouragement they need to become the scientists and technologists and creative thinkers that weÂll need in the future,Â Pon says.
ThereÂs also a need to consider what training might be necessary given an agencyÂs work. ÂThe average age of a worker here at DOE is 47, and in the scientific ranks itÂs 51. Within the next four to six years, 40 percent of EnergyÂs employees will be eligible for retirement,Â says Pon, an industrial organizational psychologist. ÂWe have scientists and technologists who take 20 or 30 years of education to be able to tackle some of the things we work on. You canÂt drop a dime and produce replacements.Â
age of a worker is 47,
and in the scientific
ranks itÂs 51.
But not all employees eligible for retirement are taking it, and 80 percent of boomers expect to work at least part-time during retirement, GartnerÂs Jones says. A longer-range trend will be a change in the labor supply and the number of available workers, she says. In 10 years, there will be about 10 million fewer qualified workers than needed, and in 30 years, the shortage will shoot up to 35 million workers, she says. About 20 percent of jobs, especially in health care and IT, will remain unfilled.
The National Academy of Public Administration, an independent nonprofit organization that helps federal, state and local governments improve their performance, offers a five-study series on workforce planning, Â21st Century Federal Manager: A Study of Changing Roles and Competencies,Â that addresses many of these concerns.
Playing the Odds
What agencies are generally missing, Jones says, Âis the idea that you need to think in terms of scenarios rather than trying to predict what the world is going to look like. ÂFor instance, thereÂs an election coming up. What will happen if itÂs a Democratic government? A Republican one? What will happen if the war in Iraq ends? If it doesnÂt end?Â
Government planners also must factor in societal and cultural trends and changing attitudes. The impact of the changing role of women in the past 50 years has rippled throughout society.
ÂWe need to change our paradigm and not think in terms of jobs because jobs will change,Â Jones says. ÂLook at IT 10 years ago. There was no such thing as a customer relationship manager.Â
Part of the answer is to focus on goals and set your workforce plans accordingly, recommends GAOÂs Walker. ÂLeading organizations have recognized that a critical success factor in fostering a results-oriented culture is an effective performance management system that creates a line of sight, showing how unit and individual performance can contribute to overall organizational goals and helping them understand the connection between their daily activities and the organizationÂs success.Â
Even if transforming government is a challenge, itÂs also an opportunity, Jones adds.
ÂI see it as a way to stop the brain drain [to the private sector], a chance to bring in people who can help shift the culture, stimulate change within the organization and let agencies better align themselves with their mission. If we do it right,Â she says, Âgovernment can become an employer of choice for the best and the brightest.Â