Federal Workers: Government Work More Challenging, Ethical

Mar 27, 2008
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Does the federal government stand a chance in competing alongside your company for the most sought-after senior-level workers? If you thought the private sector had an advantage, it might be surprising to learn that the hiring of upper-level employees from outside the government has steadily increased in the last 15 years, but especially since 2000.

After all, the federal government is fighting similar battles to what is happening in your organization — a surge of retirement-age analysts, supervisors, and managers are departing — and the government is probing the private sector to fill this critical shortage of senior-level specialists.

A newly issued report analyzing hiring trends for new employees at the grades 12, 13, 14, and 15 in fiscal year 2005 shows that the government hired more than 12,000 new upper-level workers, or 39% more than the 8,600 employees of the same rank hired in FY 1990, preceding the workforce downsizing of the 1990s.

Rusty Hiring Practices

But don’t give up the good fight for workers just yet. While your organization likely uses a variety of tools to find candidates — from the Big Three job boards, to smaller niche boards, to using your company’s corporate career site, to networking and beyond, the government is still posting jobs with myopic perfection.

The report shows that 21% of respondents said they could not easily find federal job vacancies. To put this in perspective, the government almost lost out on one-quarter of its workforce by posting nearly all job vacancies on one site, USAJOBS, the government’s job-search portal.

The report, “In Search of Highly Skilled Workers: A Study on the Hiring of Upper Level Employees from Outside the Federal Government,” suggests that federal agencies rarely use other tools to ensure they have a highly qualified, diverse applicant pool.

Survey responses show that 45% of upper-level workers rely on word-of-mouth opportunities. In comparison, only 23% of respondents first learned about their federal job through USAJOBS. Even fewer new hires first learned about their jobs through newspaper, journal, or magazine ads (2%) or from a federal recruiter (1%).

Government Service Has Retention Strengths

Even though it seems as though the private sector is better at finding new workers, the government seems to have an advantage to keeping the workers happy for the long term.

So if you think your retention tools are sharp enough, it might be time to reconsider. The report finds that upper-level new hires greatly prefer their agencies’ workplace flexibilities, such as telework and alternative work schedules, more than at their previous non-federal jobs. The workers also find federal work more challenging than their private-sector jobs.

A good amount of the respondents think that working for their new agencies gives them a better chance of making a difference. They also viewed their agencies as more ethical than their previous employers.

Some of the other tricks up the government’s sleeve include compensation flexibilities (amended in the Federal Workforce Flexibility Act of 2004) such as offering to:

  • pay recruitment bonuses and relocation allowances.
  • set initial salary at a higher rate than the lowest rate for a given grade based on superior qualifications.
  • pay off some or all of the employee’s student loan debt.
  • allow new employees to accrue leave at a higher rate by crediting directly related work experience gained elsewhere.
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.