Last month the President issued an Executive Order "requiring Federal agencies to focus hiring on the skills job seekers possess, rather than focusing on whether they earned a college degree."
The US Federal government has a long history of challenges with their hiring process. Applicants have repeatedly said that it takes too long for the government to make a hiring decision, with various agencies in agreement. Among the problems mentioned over the years are:
- Positions listed as "open" not actually open, because the agency has already picked the desired internal applicant but are required to still post it.
- Human resources staff make hiring decisions based on "qualifications" and not on hiring manager's input.
- Required hiring preferences (such as veteran status) limit the desired applicant pool, so that more highly skilled candidates are passed over because of those required preferences.
But there are concerted efforts to improve this process. In 2019, staff at the US Digital Service oversaw a project with the goal of increasing the number of pre-qualified ("certified") candidates evaluated by hiring managers at two federal agencies. Previously job candidates were able to "self-report" their abilities, on a scale of 1 to 5, using the questionnaire while applying at USA Jobs, the Federal government's job board. Self-reporting is often a poor indicator of skill level, because applicants are incentivized to exaggerate their skills (they want the job, right?) or they are not accurately aware of their skill level (or the level required by the job).
The process improvement started by asking subject matter experts to develop a structured interview format for each job position. This, as well as using pre-hire assessments, created a process that would then certify applicants as having the desired skills. Finally, the applicant would then be passed along to the hiring manager.
Challenges with the hiring process, however, are not unique to government agencies. Private companies can run into exactly the same predicament, where "open" positions are already filled, HR has too much of a say in hiring and too much trust is placed on what the applicants say they know.
The President's Executive Order should be beneficial to skilled workers, particularly with desired critical thinking skills (which can easily be measured through an pre-hire assessment), who don't have the educational credentials that used to be necessary. This can be helpful to low-income workers who could not afford college. The feds seem to be on the right track with this new strategy.
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