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Federal government tries to reach out to younger workers, recent graduates

Pathways programs aim to streamline recruiting, hiring, retention

By Matthew Hay Brown, The Baltimore Sun

June 30, 2012

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Next month, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management rolls out the Pathways programs, created by President Barack Obama in an effort to better attract young people to federal government jobs.

The programs aim to streamline and standardize recruiting, application and hiring for interns, recent graduates and presidential management fellows across the federal government, and to increase the percentage of interns who become full-time federal employees.

The Washington-based Partnership for Public Service is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that encourages young people to pursue careers in the federal government. Tim McManus, its vice president for education and outreach, discusses the changes and their impact on young federal job applicants.

Walk us through the Pathways programs. How do they improve on the current processes by which young people are hired for internships and entry-level jobs in the federal government?

For a very long time, government's hiring processes relied heavily on a demonstration of experience. That may be a detriment to overall hiring, because young people coming out of college likely don't have that direct experience. They may have other relevant experience.

For government to survive and to thrive, it needs really a mix of skills, ideas, diversity and inclusion in the broadest perspective. So, the Pathways programs were established to give students and recent grads some direct exposure to government, but also to help recognize that there is a need to bring new ideas, new blood into the agencies.

How does Pathways improve internships?

Government has long had internships. Unfortunately, a lot of those couldn't lead to direct conversion into a full-time job. If you look at the private and nonprofit sector, between 50 and 60 percent of their interns are actually converted to full-time employment. So, private-sector firms are using internships really to gauge whether or not an employee is actually the right fit, whether or not they have the right skills.

In government, less than 7 percent of their interns in the past have actually been converted into full-time employment. That's largely the result of two things. One is a disparate set of internship programs and agencies not viewing them as a primary vehicle for driving their entry-level talent.

What can a young person who is considering a job or a career in the federal government do now to prepare?

Do your homework. Figure out what agency really makes sense for you. For instance, I'll use somebody who's got a finance or an accounting background looking to be involved on the business side.

Oftentimes, you'd probably think something like the Treasury or the Securities and Exchange Commission or the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. But actually if you look at every single agency in the federal government, they've got those types of jobs.

So, align it not necessarily just with where your academic major is, but also with where your passion is. If you're actually really interested in environmental issues and you're a finance major, you may want to look at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Department of Energy.

Does anti-government rhetoric in the political arena make it difficult to persuade young people to consider a career in the federal government?

Some of our evidence would actually show that it's not difficult to get them interested in federal opportunities. What government can do is to really talk about the great things that government is in fact doing. When young people understand the opportunities that they have for really making a difference, I think that is appealing.

What we've also seen with some of our data, though, is a lot of young people have the interest and then somewhere there's a disconnect between having that interest and actually acting on it. And some of that is the process itself. They're interested, but they don't want to wade through a process that is actually cumbersome, not user-friendly, and one that at the end of the day, they don't actually believe that they're going to be able to successfully navigate.

That's exactly where the Pathways programs come in. Here's an opportunity to come in for a program designed specifically for recent grads. It's going to be a more streamlined process for those recent grads, and ultimately it's going to help them develop some of their knowledge, their skills and their abilities to actually perform their jobs over the course of a year before they convert to full-time employment.

Are there particular areas within the federal government in which you anticipate opportunities in the future?

That's part of that importance of doing your homework, because it is going to vary a little bit from agency to agency. Across government, though, if you look at where we see some pretty significant gaps, one is within occupations in the STEM field — science, technology, engineering and math — and I'd actually put a double M on that and look at those medical and health professions as well.

Clearly, some of the health care reform is going to drive a need for more people in some of the medical fields, certainly with the ongoing Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts and the focus on providing health care to returning veterans. Within the science and technology fields, certainly within the realm of IT and specifically within cybersecurity, ensuring that our infrastructures are safe from cyberattacks is a critical need across the entirety of government.

I mentioned earlier some of the finance and budget type of things. Those are typically areas where government has an ongoing need as well. And in part, that speaks back to where areas of interest are. A lot of those job-seekers don't understand these opportunities exist in government or don't see government as an employer of choice.

If you're a public policy major, government is frequently looked at as one of your options — that's kind of the course of everyday conversation. It's less part of the everyday conversation if you're an engineer or a finance major or a nursing student. But there's clearly a need for virtually every occupation and every discipline in government.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

twitter.com/matthewhaybrown

FYI

Learn more about the Pathways programs at opm.gov/hiringreform/pathways/

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