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Join Kyleigh Russ, a senior advisor to the Deputy Director at OPM, for an enlightening discussion on hacking government talent management. In this comprehensive talk from Prodacity, Kyleigh delves into the challenges and innovative strategies being implemented to transform tech talent acquisition in the federal government. From addressing the aging IT workforce to embracing new hiring practices, this video is a must-watch for those interested in government technology, talent management, and digital transformation. Discover how initiatives like Tech to Gov fairs, subject matter expert qualification assessments, and pooled hiring are shaping the future of government employment.


Kyleigh Russ (00:19):

Okay. Hello everyone. Thanks for joining and thanks for delaying a few minutes. Had a little train mix up, but we're here now. So my name is Kyleigh Russ. I am a senior advisor to the deputy director at OPM, and I'm here on an IPA, which is an Intergovernmental Personnel Act appointment from Governed for America, which is the nonprofit that I founded to build next generation talent across states. So you can look up GFA too, but that is not what I'm here to plug today, although that is commonly what I'm used to plugging.


So we're here to talk about hacking government talent management. Alright, I'm going to get into it. I have a lot of slides to get through and I will give out my contact information at the end of this in case people have questions, comments...OPM can be doing X, Y, Z...I'm sure I'll get lots of those.


Okay, we'll start with the state of the tech workforce in the federal government. Very brief. Couple of slides on that. What are we talking about? What's the size? What's the age, et cetera. We'll then talk through really quickly what we're going to cover here today, the talent funnel, what do I mean by that right now? And then we'll get into some of the strategy deep dives. I'm going to try to keep going through these pretty quickly. I'm going to stay afterwards, so I'm happy to answer questions, whatever folks have. Alright, let's get into it. So the IT workforce across the federal government is very large. The stats that you see here, 80,000, that really only accounts for the 2210 series, which is what we commonly refer to as the tech workforce. I, with some of the work that we're doing at OPM, are trying to change the narrative that 2210s are really like the only tech - for most of this presentation, with the exception of these stat slides, I'm going to be talking big tent tech.


So yes, 2210s, but also the data workforce, the AI workforce, and everything that enables those workforces to do their jobs. So we have a really big, have really big IT workforce. They stay for a really long time. Industry standard is somewhere around two years, and the federal workforce is staying for more than six times that length. That's obviously has its benefits and it has its downsides. But just putting that out there as something to keep in mind as we move on to the next slide, which is that our IT workforce is quite old and we have limited numbers of folks under 30 who are working across the 2210 series.


We want people to stay in these jobs. We want people to be able to pass down their knowledge to folks who are coming up behind them. But we're really concerned about this, 4% of the IT workforce under 30. We're looking at ways that we can tackle that for the IT workforce, but just generally across all early career talent. So you'll see some strategies coming up here. And then my last stat is a happy one. We are getting better. Over the last four years, there's been a 28 percentage point increase in the number of competitive IT job announcements that result in an offer. So that's obviously that's pretty big. It's not amazing. We don't want almost 30% of roles being pulled down without an offer, but we feel good that we're making progress and that some of this is in part due to some of the innovations that I'll discuss over the next few slides.


The tech talent roadmap...this is not unique to tech at all. So we have planning, recruiting, and sourcing, assessing and offering. So I'll take us through what are some innovations, things that we're trying to push at the federal level to try to address challenges in each of the parts of this tech hiring roadmap.


Let's get into planning. So in planning, we're really thinking about workforce planning. How are people thinking about their tech workforce - how that tech force integrates into the rest of their workforce? We're thinking about some of that legacy planning. How are we getting more than 4% of our IT workforce to be under 30? We want to be bringing in next-generation talent. And how are we encouraging agencies to be using all of the hiring flexibilities that are available to them? Let's be honest, for those of you who are in the crowd who are working at federal agencies, OPM can be, sometimes people think of it as "no PM."


We think of it as a place that we're going to crack down, you're going to get in trouble. But we really do want agencies to be trying to use all of the flexibilities that are available to them, and I'll talk about a few of them that are available, specifically for IT. Okay, so the kind of transformation-in three buckets-that we're looking for, and I should have caveated before, this 25-minute presentation is not going to be comprehensive of everything we know needs to change, and that we are trying actively to change. So these are some of the highlights.


The first: planning for, we want agencies to go from planning for hiring one technologist at a time to planning for full tech teams. What does the next generation of AI leaders in government actually need to thrive? They need the enabling talent around them. We want agencies to be going from hiring only high-level GS-14, 15, SES to be really building the pipeline with entry-level talent.


And we want agencies to go from thinking, "we only have a couple hiring authorities" to use all of the hiring authorities available to you when appropriate. So we'll get into each of those now. Hiring for tech teams: so in many instances we see that agencies are thinking about technologists in a vacuum, especially when leadership is not particularly tech savvy. That's especially when we see this. So we are trying to go out in partnership with other agencies, like the US Digital Service, and help agencies think about how to transform their one hiring, one hiring, one hiring, towards let's pick from some menu of positions, and be hiring them in teams, so that we can make sure that this one person who we sometimes think of as tech savior, can actually be doing the work, can actually and has the enabling team, to allow them to thrive and frankly, to stay. We're worried constantly about folks coming in, being hired in really cool sounding job titles, and then realizing that they don't have the team that they need. So we're trying to move in this direction through consulting, and really in partnerships with agencies individually.


The second thing we're really encouraging agencies to do is building the funnel. So as I said on the last slide, the average age of federal technologists is 51 right now, 4% of the federal IT workforce is under 30. We have many theories about why those are, but to really boil it down, we think this is a two-sided problem. On the one hand, we think that early career talent doesn't see the federal government, or government period, as the place to make impact. We really want to change that narrative. We are trying to say, "if you want to make systemic impact, then you have to do it from the inside." And so we're trying to push that narrative. And then on the other side, the lack of investment amongst agencies. We hear from agencies all the time, that they really can't afford to use one of their FTEs to hire somebody at a GS-9.


They have to be able to hit the ground running. They don't time to train them. We are really encouraging agencies to think longer term, which is hard. And so some of the ways that we're tackling that two-sided problem are we, this past summer, launched an internship experience program that was government-wide. We've never done this before. And so we brought all of the interns that we could find across government, train them, put them into a cohort, and it was very well received. We had so many interns who were like, "yes, I want to work for the federal government." Early career talent marketplace is something that we're working on this fiscal year. So that is going to be a place, and it really addresses that first problem. That's going to be a place where early career talent can go and find opportunities. They can learn about what the hiring process in federal government actually looks like.


Because again, as many of you probably know, this, oftentimes very difficult to navigate, is not transparent, and so we're really building a place where folks who have no idea where to begin can start there. They can explore what a career in federal government might look like, and then actually apply. The early career talent business case is a research project that we are hoping to put out at the same time as the updated pathways regulations, which will be coming out likely this spring. Early career talent business case is going to be literally us saying, "this is why in dollars and cents, agencies should be investing in early career talent." This is what happens when we have people retiring and we don't have people to backfill them. And we are hoping that that can be an incentive because we haven't framed the problem like that - so far. And then the last thing, exploring AI use cases. We know that AI can help our early career talent get up to speed quicker. It can help folks who have been here for a long time kind of download their knowledge, put and help early career talent get up to speed, and hit the ground running, which is the biggest concern we hear with from agencies about hiring early career talent.


And then finally, the tech hiring authorities and pathways. So I'm happy to share this out afterwards because there's a lot of information on this slide, but I'll just go really quickly through some of this. There are a lot of flexibilities for technologists across government, and many of these virtually never get used. The one that I want to highlight the most, is the 2210 IT specialists delegated to agencies. So, agencies can give themselves direct hire authority, which is something that, I mean I'm in this space, I'm talking to agencies all the time, and people oftentimes have no idea that that's true. So agencies don't have to go to OPM, you don't have to get approval. You can do it yourselves. Happy to send out more information to anyone interested on how to do that.


Thinking about the enabling roles, we just granted a couple new direct hire authorities, which are one of the most popular ways to bring in technologists outside of delegated examining. So data scientists and computer scientists. And those are really in response to the last Monday's executive order on AI, thinking about how those are going to be really enabling roles for AI leaders to come in. We have these other direct hire authorities. I'm not going to go through each of them, but I will call out the next one that also almost never gets used, which is expert consultant. This is a way to bring in someone, it's an appointment, you do not's not competitive. You appoint them. It can be for one year, and I think you can extend it for another year. A quick way to get someone that you know you want in the door very quickly.


Pathways...pushing that early career talent. We are updating pathways, again, should be out in the spring. And that's really the way, right now, that agencies are bringing in early career talent. And then we have these fellowships; we have the Presidential Management Fellow, Presidential Innovation Fellows, and others that are ways that are not going...the applicants don't have to go through quite as long of a process as delegated examining. So, these are some of the many ways that you can bring your folks in outside of [Inaudible]. Of course we still want folks to be coming in through the competitive service, to the extent possible, and to the extent that it makes sense, but these are definitely available and we want agencies to be using them.


Alright, looking at my time, I'm going to move a little bit faster even. Okay, so Recruiting and Sourcing. We know that agencies often just post their job on USA Jobs, and they really hope that it gets filled. That is not recruiting. And so, we are really hoping to move away from using the term "I did a recruitment," to mean that you posted something on USA Jobs towards let's do tech focused recruiting for real, with events. We're going to be training folks in how to do this. And then, the other one that we hear all the time, and was one of the most requested projects that I hear of, is the occupational series titles...moving those towards recognizable titles that people in industry will actually understand getting into this.


So in January 2023, in response to the mass layoffs across the tech sector, OPM partnered with a group of nonprofits on the outside called Tech...and started a series called Tech to Gov. And Tech to Gov exists outside. It is kind of a series of recruiting events, and it is also a working group inside, that is really trying to smooth the path in technologists at a more systemic level.


As of two weeks ago, we held the most recent Tech to Gov fair where we had 3000 virtual attendees, representing all 50 states, lots of people on the wait list. It was very well received. Two thirds of the people who attended said they were more interested in government jobs after the event than they were before the event. So, we know that there's something there which we're helping agencies tell their stories and how we bring people together, the speakers we put in front of them, we know that that matters a lot. And so we have been very intentional with this series, to pick people who have gone from tech private sector to government, back to private sector, back to government, and really been going back and forth because we often hear that technologists are like, "ooh, if I go into government, am I going to get stuck there if I don't like it?"


And so we want to be telling the story that no, you can bob and weave as you want to. Another thing that we've been doing leading up to these events to really try to train HR professionals who are oftentimes tasked with doing this recruitment, is training them in how do you actually source candidates? How do you actually create a pitch for your agency? These are not things that HR across government is trained in, so it's unreasonable to expect them at this point to be really awesome recruiters. Most agencies don't have recruiters, and so their HR specialists serve as their recruiters. And so we're actively trying to train them in the things that we think matter the most. We did a pilot leading up to the last Tech to Gov event, where we gave these trainings to agencies for free, and then they could put it to use at the event, and it was really well received.


Better Tech Title. So I took this screenshot last week when I was making this presentation, and there were almost 4,000 jobs that had the same title of IT Specialist. No one in private industry knows what that means. And many people in government, most people in government, also don't know what it means. And so we are creating resources for agencies to do a bit of like a translation. What should a product manager - when is it appropriate to call your job a Product Manager? When is it appropriate to call it a Data Analyst and really show how the translation works from private sector, so we can be attracting folks in.


Okay, I know I'm going really fast. Okay, Assessing. So, assessing is one of the places where there has been the biggest investment over the last few years at OPM. We are trying to move agencies from using purely occupational questionnaires to robust assessments. This is a really hard and big change for folks. For those of you who don't know what a occupational series is, it means it's a survey. It's a survey where the HR team has said, "rank yourself: are you an expert from an expert to like, I don't know this at all," in all of these different skills that you need in order to do this job. And people rate themselves. They don't have to prove anything. They rate themselves, they submit it, and that's how you end up on the cert. It's a little bit more complicated than that, but really that's the gist of it.


And we're concerned, we want to be moving away from this, but 92% of competitive jobs rely only on self-assessment questionnaires and HR resume review. And so we are really trying to move away from this. There was an Executive Order recently to move us away from this. And so OPM is putting in that work. We know that the whole occupational series, the occupational questionnaire, is a problem because people who know how to manage the system, just put "expert, expert, expert, expert," and those who don't, those who we are trying to attract with the Tech to Gov fairs, they don't know that. And so we're trying to level the playing field for everyone. One of the ways that we're doing that is through Scaling up SME-QA, or subject matter expert qualification assessment. Very cool title. So SME-QA tries to adjust this problem by basically bringing in subject matter experts into the entire hiring process.


When I joined OPM, I did not know that this is how hiring works, and I was shocked to learn that subject matter experts are not involved in the hiring process on a regular basis. But this process really is an innovation for everyone across government. And so, this is a sample...what it could look like. And all of the asterisks that you'll see, are places that subject matter experts are now involved in, in a SME-QA process. So they would be involved in the job analysis where they're deciding, what actually is this job, what are the tasks that they're going to be doing? In the job announcement, what should that look like? In all of the assessment design and the actual assessing? So structured interviews, resume reviews - subject matter experts are involved. And this has been huge for us, especially in the tech field, where HR probably doesn't have the expertise to be able to rigorously assess, based on just a resume, and an occupational questionnaire. SME-QA has been really helping us to bring in people who know exactly what these tech jobs are.


Okay, and I am on my last section. Offer. So I will say that, to call when I'm about to talk about just the offer stage, is probably pretty unfair. The next...what I'll talk about next is more holistic. It's really a reformation of the entire hiring process, but I'm putting in an offer from the perspective of the candidates. So we are trying to take the government to a one-government mindset. We are trying to get government to move away from posting one job announcement and hiring one person, and in some cases posting one job announcement and hiring a few people in their agency, to posting one job announcement that will bring in 50, 100, 200 people, across government. Again, this is a really hard cultural change to push for, but we just, last year, OPM announced and has formed an innovation office called the Hiring Experience Group, and this and SME-QA are the two things that they're really focused on right now.


So pooled hiring goes from one announcement, one person, to pooled hiring, lots of people getting hired, not just from one agency. So the key here is that there are two ways that you can run these. One is with OPM, and I know there's a lot on this slide, but one is OPM saying, "we don't even need to hire for this, but we know that this is a need across government. We're going to take subject matter experts from across government, from 10 agencies, and ask them to go through that SME-QA process, decide what the job is. How can we make this job relevant for 10 agencies or all of the agencies? Bring in all of the agency subject matter experts, get them into a room, have them help design the entire process, and then the cert that we put out - do active recruiting - and then the cert that we put out at the end, people can hire from any agency across government off of that cert. And it is intentional that OPM is running these, and there are some special things that the OPM ones can do that the next one I'm about to talk about can't do, but generally they run the same way.


The second one, which in my opinion the most scalable solution, is hiring under the Competitive Service Act. So this means that an agency runs a regular hiring action for themselves. They put one line into the announcement that says something to the effect of, we might share your, by applying to this, you acknowledge that we're going to share your candidacy, and if you make it to the cert, you could get hired by other agencies. They run it like they normally would, and then they hire who they need to, then any agency can hire off of the extra people. This has the potential....I am not going to say that it is because this is a very hard cultural shift for agencies to think, why would I share my leftover folks? Why would I participate in this? It's a little bit extra work to actually go out and share the cert, but can you imagine the efficiencies that this can create, and how much better of a candidate experience this can be if, instead of applying to 20 of the same jobs across government, you apply once and now you have the opportunity to be hired by 20 -however many agencies are interested. This is the way that we are moving. It is the way that OPM is trying to push us to move, and I think it is going to revolutionize hiring at the federal level.


And miraculously I'm 40 seconds under time. Thank you. My name is Kyleigh Russ. Email's up here. Happy to hear from any of you. Thank you.