Guest Post by A. H. Cemendtaur
In the history of South Asia, 1947 was a blood-soaked year – hundreds of thousands got killed while millions were uprooted from their ancestral lands. Prior to 1947 Sikhs lived everywhere in North-Eastern area of what is today Pakistan. I hang my head in shame knowing that presently there is only a small number of Sikhs left there.
I have been a great fan of Sardars – more so after a community of them saved my life in Lusaka, the year was 1992. I got sick while traveling and sojourned at a Gurdwara (Singa Singa Mesquita). The family that took care of the temple took me to the hospital and fed me. I don’t recall their names, but I remember there was a young man who pursued a modeling career and wanted to go to the US.
Compared to followers of other faiths, a practicing Sikh must find it very hard to conceal his identity. And that is the reason I always wondered what professions Sikhs in Pakistan took, and how they kept a low profile in the rising tide of hollow religiosity of the majority.
In my last trip to Pakistan I ran into a very colorful Sardar. He was a hakim who ran a Yunani matab called "Khalsa Dawakhana."
Here is video footage of Hakim Sarber Singh.
"Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki Fateh."
The Human Capital Challenge in Acquisition, Science, and Engineering.
The Public Manager September 1, 2001 | SCHROETEL, AL Sixty conference workshop participants from across government attempt to identify and prioritize the most pressing recruitment and retention issues and point the way to solutions.
Nearly 60 attendees at the recent conference on workforce quality sponsored by the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) participated in the acquisition/science/engineering (A/S/E) track. Forty percent of the participants were from the A/S/E career fields and the others were from the human resources (HR) community. By hearing from each side, we achieved a balanced perspective as we identified recruitment and retention issues and initiatives.
What can be learned from the Department of Defense (DOD) experience?
Since about 25 percent of all federal civilian employees are in DOD, it is illustrative to examine how DOD plans to shape and manage its civilian force for the 21st century. Keith Charles, director, Acquisition Career Management, and Roger Blanchard, Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff, personnel, co-chaired the A/S/E track and each presented the issues and challenges in managing the workforce today and in the coming years.
* Total numbers of DOD employees decreased nearly 40 percent since 1989.
* DOD experienced an almost 75 percent drop in annual hires under age 31 years during this same time.
* Fifty percent of the acquisition workforce will be eligible to retire over the next five years.
* Air Force civilian scientist and engineer salary and expense losses consistently exceed new hires and the shortage of military engineers is expected to grow. Currently over 30 percent of authorized Air Force positions are vacant.
There must be a clearer recruitment and retention message (positively focusing on the federal government as an “employer of choice”) to win the “war for talent” with the private sector.
Charles and Blanchard also provided examples of initiatives being developed to meet these challenges.
* Market the government’s mission and challenging opportunities.
* Streamline the civilian hiring process.
* Maximize the use of existing authorities and assess the need for greater authorities (e.g., bonuses, student employment programs).
* Increase the flexibility in compensation packages.
* Develop more multifunctional acquisition professionals.
* Promote civilian leadership development opportunities.
Identifying and Prioritizing Issues The first task for the track participants was to identify the most pressing recruitment and retention issues facing the federal workforce in general and the A/S/E workforce specifically. The participants, working in three subgroups, developed an extensive list of issues. That list was then prioritized based on the effect of each issue. Ease of implementing a solution was not used as a factor to consider in determining issue priority. Within each subgroup, participants scored each issue–then combined the results to create the list below. The numbers shown in parentheses indicate the total number of “votes” that issue received. These numbers are shown to indicate the relative strength of the perceived impact for each issue.
Overall Recruitment and Retention Issues (Cutting Across the Federal Workforce) * Compensation system (62). The lack of competitive salary and benefits was ranked as the #1 issue in recruitment. According to participants, the current system is inflexible and nonresponsive to the “market.” The lack of incentives was also considered an important retention factor.
* Cumbersome/time-consuming hiring process (41). Right behind compensation is the hiring process. Many participants noted the difficulty in explaining procedures and processing the paperwork to hire new employees. Federal government recruiters are at a distinct disadvantage compared to those from the private sector because they are restricted in their ability to recruit, interview, and make “on-the-spot” job offers.
* Insufficient decentralized recruiting and retention efforts (32). The shortfalls in recruitment and retention are emerging problems in an environment where “downsizing” has been the focus for many years. The participants felt that, as a result, there has been no groundswell of support from the administration, Congress, or the public to fix the problem–but they believe that support will become evident very soon. Specific recruiting problems cited were the lack of an annual recruiting plan with a detailed strategy (e.g., targeting schools, attending job fairs, partnering with universities, funding, training recruiters) and no national marketing campaign (resulting in a lack of visibility on college campuses). The participants also felt that the poor image of government service and federal employees, created by the negative public media coverage and fostered by Congress and past administrations, is affecting both recruitment and retention. Recruiting can be improved by “selling” federal A/S/E jobs as “cutting edge” and retention will improve when employees feel valued and take pride in what they do. this web site electrical engineer salary
* Dissatisfaction with the work environment (23). Many participants cited this as a major reason for employees leaving federal service. Another oft-cited concern was poor supervision, perhaps a result of inadequate leadership and management training. Employees who do not feel empowered to make decisions often leave. Retention is also adversely affected when DOD civilians sense a lack of equality with their military counterparts.
* Job Content (20). What people do is a major retention factor. Participants noted that many people leave because the duties they are asked to perform do not match the qualification requirements of the job. They often perceive a lack of professional or technical challenge in their routine tasks.
* Mentality of “one size fits all” HR model (17). The personnel management rules governing most of the federal civilian workforce restrict the government’s ability to compete in the labor market. This makes it difficult to respond to adverse retention patterns, even when properly predicted. The inability to negotiate salary and benefits makes it even more difficult to compete with the private sector for the top talent. Because recent college graduates anticipate working for several companies in their lifetimes, changes must be made to facilitate movement in and out of government service. Such changes could include making benefits more portable and recruiting people at the mid-career point (with commensurate pay and benefits).
* Restrictive and complex laws and policies (17). Many participants advocated that the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) should play a more forceful leadership role in promoting broad civil service reform. They felt legislative changes were needed in Title 5. Recruitment and retention problems are sometimes exacerbated when organizations do not maximize the use of existing authorities. For instance, a school loan repayment program is authorized but rarely funded.
* Lack of strategic workforce planning (11). Few organizations have a strategic HR plan.
* Inadequate training and career development (8). The participants felt this is key to retaining quality employees. Currently, unclear career paths in many organizations, caused by lack of career planning, make it difficult to identify future movements. There is a need for better orientation and development programs for people once they are hired. Finally, lack of information technology training for all employees on available technology does not maximize their job performance.
Overall Recruitment and Retention Issues (Unique to the A/S/E Workforce) As a subset of the federal workforce, the A/S/E workforce is also experiencing significant recruiting and retention challenges. Those challenges are exacerbated by:
* Increased technical and educational requirements of the workforce.
* Stringent certification standards for workforce members.
* Highly-lucrative professional opportunities in the private sector.
Furthermore, the lack of a strategic plan during downsizing resulted in inadequate authorizations to support requirements.
Developing Initiatives The second major task for track participants was to develop initiatives to address the recruitment and retention issues they had identified. The initiatives were categorized into three areas of change: structural, leadership, and legis lative. There was no attempt to link initiatives to specific issues because each initiative often affected more than one issue. This section of the article presents some of the initiatives that the participants felt had the greatest effect; however, beyond that general categorization they are not presented in any order of merit.
Structural Initiatives * Create a strategic and tactical needs-based recruitment and staffing plan. This plan could include the following actions: (1) establish recruiting centers (with professional recruiters) or interagency partnerships; (2) create a centralized marketing plan (by OPM) with decentralized recruiting (by agency) and hiring; (3) create a centralized recruiting database; (4) identify “target” schools to focus specific recruiting efforts; (5) increase co-op/intern programs at college and high school level; and (6) market geographic location (which may be more attractive than compensation to some potential employees).
* Show “return-on-investment” for recruiting programs to justify increased funding. Recruiting is not competitive for the limited funds in today’s budget environment. Payoffs must be quantified to improve the chances of sufficient dollars being budgeted for recruiting programs that will compete with those in the private sector.
* Simplify the hiring process. Nearly all participants agreed there must be fast, valid, and user-friendly tools to hire new employees. This may require a greater leadership and funding role by OPM. Even under the current system, increased use of information technology (web-based, when possible) could improve communication with potential recruits and applicants going through the lengthy hiring process.
* Enhance training and development. Once hired, employees should participate in an effective orientation program that includes clear career paths and associated training. Retention is likely to improve if employees see growth opportunities (within the next three years). Developmental assignments also improve job content over a career.
* Increase management flexibility in assigning work with generic position descriptions and emphasis on performance rather than formal job classification. Managers should be able to hire employees into jobs with broad descriptions. This allows flexibility to tailor duties when required to meet the changing requirements of the workforce. Managers could assign jobs and tasks without being artificially constrained by the current classification, pay grade, and other restrictions. Employees would work where they have demonstrated skills and abilities to produce results for the organization.
* Reward exemplary supervisors who develop people below journey level. This initiative would encourage supervisors to improve their ability to mentor employees. It came from a general consensus that supervisors, especially those with technical backgrounds, need to focus more on management and leadership, and that these skills help build better employees and a better workforce.
Leadership Initiatives * Include HR staff in strategic planning. Effective workforce planning requires linkage to the strategic mission. The “people” piece must be considered during the strategic planning process. To do so, the role of the HR professional needs to shift from administrative or functional expert to strategic partner.
* Improve management effectiveness. Top management can best communicate the agency’s vision and strategy–and should do so in a way that workers feel challenged and involved. Leaders should require meaningful individual developmental plans for every employee and hold supervisors responsible for mentoring and providing required training.
* Many participants felt the HR function should be redefined as human capital management, an approach that values employees as assets, not costs. This view recognizes the importance of continuous employee training and development. Providing leadership and management training is critical for scientists and engineers as they grow to that career point.
* The next step is to provide timely and personal recognition for exemplary performance. One way to measure that performance is to institute 360-degree appraisals (peer, up, and down). A private sector “best practice,” this method of evaluating an employee’s performance and contribution to the mission provides a leadership development tool that managers can use instead of just “down-directed” corrections.
* Market federal civilian jobs. Top managers and leaders can positively affect recruitment and retention programs by their personal involvement. They have great credibility to “sell” jobs as exciting, critical, and on the “cutting edge.” Personally recruiting at colleges (especially at their alma maters) sends the signal that who the agency hires is important to them. Additionally, they are in the best position to ensure adequate funding for workforce authorities (e.g., hiring/relocation/retention bonuses, performance incentives).
* Support rotational assignments. Top management should avoid taking a myopic view of employees’ careers. People are increasingly seeking work in a variety of settings. When they enter civil service, they are not necessarily planning to stay with that agency (or the government) for a career. Policies should foster employee mobility. One avenue could be an exchange program with other government agencies or private sector companies. Leaders (through policies and actions) should not inhibit movement of people in and out of government service, anywhere in a career.
* Support a governmentwide strategy to adapt civil service to current workforce trends. There is a need for a common body to identify governmentwide issues related to civil service functions and to champion solutions applicable across a variety of departments and agencies. The Interdepartmental Leadership Council was mentioned as a possible vehicle to act as this single voice.
* Support a compensation system aligned with human capital strategy. Along with developing an HR system with greater flexibility to compete with the private sector, the compensation authorities contained in that system must adapt to labor market demands and retention patterns. It should also bring parity between federal employee pay and private sector pay. Top-level support is critical to achieve this parity, which once achieved would positively affect the way employees perceive their contribution to the mission and the quality of their work. Benchmarking private sector “best practices” and considering a contribution-based compensation system should be done before adopting a new compensation system.
* Solicit “state-of-the-art” business by “selling” agency skills. The federal government has lost the image and “brand” recognition that once brought high-quality workers to the government as the “employer of choice.” In order to get to that point again, the government consumers need to be “pushing” the research and development and acquisition communities to continue moving outside the current envelope. Participants indicated this is not happening. Consumers do not know and appreciate what the acquisition community can do-and so do not give their business to government agencies. see here electrical engineer salary
* Encourage more effective use of “work-life” programs (e.g., flextime, alternate work schedules, and telecom-muting). Work-life programs abound in the private sector. The federal government must make better use of these programs to compete for high-quality candidates and to retain employees who place a high value on quality of life issues.
* Create an “Office of Empowerment” (to maximize people’s talents). This concept would establish an internal advocate for ideas that are stymied in the normal processes.
Legislative Initiatives Participants were unanimous in labeling many of the current laws as archaic and inflexible–hamstringing efforts to hire and keep the brightest and best people in government service. Numerous legislative changes were recommended and are listed below. However, the participants cautioned against piecemeal enactment. It should be a two-step process: develop a comprehensive strategy first and then prepare and enact the required legislation to implement that strategy.
* Increase legislative authorities to streamline hiring process. Many of the recommendations focused on eliminating or modifying rules (e.g., “rule of three” candidates, time-in-grade, veteran’s preference, noncompetitive temporary appointment conversion). There was a strong desire for decentralizing the hiring authority–allowing broader direct hire authority for hard-to-fill jobs, consolidating authorities into a single appointing authority, and offering jobs on-the-spot.
* Eliminate current “one-size fits all” HR system by permitting:
–Governmentwide pay-banding. Replace classification and compensation laws with job “families” and skill broad-banding for the entire workforce. These practices are now limited to demonstration programs.
–More flexibility in pay-setting practices. This would include a contribution-based system and authorities for market-based pay.
* Allow special pay rate and direct hire for scientists and engineers (including GS-14s and 15s) as currently authorized for certain information technology employees.
* Permit more flexible and portable benefit packages. Authorize agencies to offer “cafeteria-style” benefit plan to employees. Recruiters would benefit if they had the authority to negotiate benefits with potential employees by essentially tailoring benefits package to individuals.
* Change the current retirement systems. Recommended changes included increased portability of retirement benefits and “phased” retirements.
Conclusion All participants in the A/S/E track recognized the tremendous challenge facing federal government agencies. The issues and initiatives identified in this two-day conference represent the tip of the iceberg–and deserve more analysis than this article attempted. Structural changes and leadership action within current laws can incrementally improve the current recruitment and retention situation faced by the federal government. More wide-reaching success can be made possible through legislative changes to the fundamental personnel management system. To meet these challenges, the current way of doing business must likely change. The A/S/E track participants agreed that “tweaking” procedures and action by leaders in each agency can produce positive results-but these will be limited in scope. True progress requires the issues to be addressed on a governmentwide basis–beginning with a rethinking of the basic premise underlying today’s recruitment and retention practices. The participants were adamant that develop ing a new strategy based on the future environment is critical–and doesn’t get easier by delaying.
Al Schroetel is a project manager with the Logistics Management Institute (LMI) and served as the acquisition/science/engineering track leader at the NAPA quality workforce conference.