Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
Federal workforce strategies that enable mission success
Workforce challenges are strategic challenges
The current scope and scale of challenges facing the U.S Federal Government’s workforce has the potential to significantly impact mission objectives, efficiency, and agency performance. Ongoing demand for critical skills, in areas such as finance, acquisition, science, technology, and cybersecurity, is prompting federal managers and agency leaders to quickly implement programs that identify, develop, and sustain their respective workforces. Additionally, the current human capital trends across federal – including skills gaps in mission critical areas, evolving and expanding mission requirements, budgetary/resource constraints stemming from unprecedented fiscal austerity, attrition of top performers, aging of the workforce and pending wave of retirements, and the shift towards insourcing – drive an increased emphasis on the need to define and establish the workforce needed to meet current and future requirements. Proper workforce planning is a critical activity for every part of the organization to define and address these workforce issues and to link the organizational strategy to the workforce strategy.
Demographic trends, highlighted by an aging and retirement-eligible federal workforce, have been looming over the federal government for over the past 10 years. Many government leaders have recognized the increased urgency of the situation and have called for more targeted and effective talent management strategies across all employee levels. These demographic trends combined with the current economic and labor climate have shifted the market from the supply side (employees) to the demand side (the employers). Although the number and caliber of available employees for federal jobs had increased during the recent economic recession, the trend is slowly shifting, and finding the “right” people with the “right” skills is becoming more of a challenge for many government agencies. The issue is compounded by the fact that Generation Y is not as interested in careers in government service as prior generations. Only six percent of college students in 2012 had plans to apply to work in the federal government1. Therefore, new strategies are required to develop a comprehensive understanding of the issues and factors facing the workforce and a precise depiction of the capabilities needed to support current and future work requirements. Further, the federal government should use this insight to attract and engage the right people with the right skills much earlier in the recruitment process to address the demand for critical talent.
More recently, the issues surrounding the federal budget have complicated the already complex workforce planning landscape. Pressure to reduce public deficit goals have and will continue to tighten personnel budgets which will directly impact workforce planning efforts. The Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 requires a reduction in discretionary spending - the source of personnel funding - by over $1 trillion by 20222 . As a result, many agencies have had and will continue to adopt various cost-cutting measures across multiple talent areas. Most recent efforts focused on buyouts and early retirement offers, pay and hiring freezes, cuts to training budgets, administrative furloughs, higher employee contributions to their benefits, and the shutdown furlough of over 800,000 employees in the beginning of Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. While some of these measures are necessary to meet the BCA cost cutting goals, they can negatively impact employee engagement and retention, accelerate the existing skills gap problem in mission critical areas and disrupt a much needed organizational transfer of knowledge associated with the projected accelerated retirement wave. Robust workforce planning measures can offer agencies the tools to minimize the impact of these actions.
A core component of any human capital strategy, workforce planning is the process of analyzing and forecasting workforce supply and demand, identifying any associated gaps, and implementing talent management programs which mitigate the gaps to sustain the necessary workforce. Effective workforce planning in the US Federal Government requires leaders to identify the areas of their agency’s operations which are vital to the long term sustainability of the organization. Agencies should consider adopting an approach to workforce planning which identifies mission critical workforce segments, responds to federal workforce issues, and establishes talent strategies as an enabler for mission success.
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1 Partnership for public service, Federal Leaders face challenges attracting top college graduates to government service, February 6, 2012.
2 Budget control act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25).