The Public Manager and the American Society for Public Administration

hosted their first annual conference on government

transformation in Baltimore, Maryland, July 2829, 2008. The

conference theme was Transforming Bureaucratic Cultures: Challenges and

Solutions for Public Management Practitioners. Members of the panel, New

Demographics and Recruiting and Retaining Young Professionals, discussed

strategies for recruiting and retaining college graduates in the

federal service and highlighted the parallel crises federal agencies are

facing: an imminent mass exodus of 3550 percent of employees eligible

for retirement and the inability of agencies to attract college graduates

to federal employment. Myriad topics were discussed in addressing

these parallel issues, all underscoring the need for agencies to take immediate

actions to attract and retain a new generation of talent.

Federal agencies are finding it difficult to attract and retain college

graduates for two primary reasons. First, young people today are less attracted

to federal employment than the generations before them. They

feel private-sector positions offer more challenges and greater extrinsic

and intrinsic rewards than federal service. Second, and most important,

federal agencies are faced with obstacles inherent to the civil service

system, including salary caps, slow hiring processes, and unique rules

and regulations that deter some applicants from applying for federal

positions and greatly frustrate others once they do apply.

Strategic Human Capital

Management Planning

Agencies can overcome these obstacles by developing

strategic human capital management plan that

describes tailored recruitment and retention strategies.

The plan should outline executable actionstactical (in

14 years) and strategic (in 510 years)and contingency

strategies, resource requirements (personnel and

financial), and risks. The plan should be developed after

an agency self-assessment to obtain answers to the following

three questions: Where are we now? Where are

we going? How will we get there?

It should outline the agencys current situation in

terms of employee levels by department and job series

compared with expected personnel requirements over

each of the next ten years. It should also include a situ-

ational analysis of personnel requirements compared

with the agencys partners (customers, suppliers, and

other agencies), competition (private and public), technology,

current labor market, economy, and regulatory

environment. The How will we get there? question

is answered by developing clear goals and objectives

and outlining them along a structured path to achievement.

This includes an outline of the agencys target

population for improving, replacing, and increasing

personnel levels.

Plan Structure

Table 1 shows the sections of the strategic human capital

management plan, which should be detailed enough

to answer the associated questions. The sections are interconnected

and result from a top-down development.

Plan Execution

Developing and executing the strategic plan require

various actions, which are not the sole responsibility

of the human resources department. All parts of

the organization, including operations, finance, human

resources, and systems, should participate. A dedicated

team should draft the plan, which should be given to

each component of the agency for comment, endorsed

by upper management, and finally signed by the head of

the agency. The human capital plan should be integrated

as a key component of the agencys overall strategic plan

and published for agency-wide distribution.

The human resources specialists who help execute

the plan should be certified professionals and receive

continual training. Managers and supervisors must be

thoroughly trained on the plan and in strategies to ensure

its effective implementation, including personnel planning,

human resources management, communication,

feedback, and managing diversity. Each departments

annual goals and performance plans should include human

resources improvement strategies as a subset of the

organizations human capital plan.

To implement the plan, the organizations structure,

policies, processes, and programs may have to change.

The plan may also need to be periodically amended to

adapt to changes that impact the strategic posture of the

agency, but not dynamic temporary changes. The plan

should be evaluated annually to ensure it remains viable

and current in relation to the strategic internal and external

needs of the agency.

Recruitment and Retention Strategies

The strategic human capital management plan

has two key components: recruitment and retention

strategies, which are not mutually exclusive. An effective

recruitment plan must incorporate plans to retain

employees once hired. For example, a scientific agency

recruiting students from a research institution must ensure

the students training and skills are congruent to the

duties required of the positions they are filling to ensure

they are retained. This is the basis of job-fit theory:

jobs and organizations that possess characteristics that

are congruent with individual characteristics produce a

fit that both attracts employees and motivates them to

remain. Strategies agencies can implement to attract and

retain a new generation of talent follow.


Proactive Recruitment

Due to financial constraints and, to a lesser degree,

poor planning, agencies often wait until positions have

been vacated before filling them. Proactive recruitment

determines potential vacancies due to planned retirements,

potential promotions, and anticipated increases

in personnel levels due to mission changes. New employees

are then hired to form a pool of new talent to

be trained by seasoned employees. When financial resources

do not permit maintaining a pool of workers,

agencies should still maintain a catalog of applications

and refresh it at least semiannually so the agency is in

position to quickly fill vacancies.

Streamlined Hiring

The application process for federal jobs is extremely

complex, especially for college students, who only have

to submit a resume for private-sector jobs. Many documents

must be submitted, and the process is complicated

by differing agency application systems and processes.

Applicants also find it difficult to check the status of their

applications once submitted. Human resources specialists

review applications for completeness and compare them

with vacancy requirements. They rank the applicants

and pass the applications to the hiring official filling a

vacancy. Applicants may have a contact number for the

human resources specialist, but not the hiring official.

An applicant may not receive any status information for

months, or they may not be contacted at all.

To streamline their hiring process, agencies should

require as few documents as possible, preferably only a

resum. Applicants should be able to track their applications

from the date of submission until a selection is

made and receive justification if not selected. Supporting

documentation such as official transcripts and proof of

residency should be conditional documents required of

the applicant once selected. Reform trends involve the

decentralization of classification plans through broadbanding,

which consists of salary grades consolidated

into fewer and broader pay ranges. This process, under

the National Security Personnel System, eliminates the

duplication of pay levels across grades. This has made

grade and pay systems more entrepreneurial, flexible,

and responsive to employees in term of a clearer career

entry point and promotion track.

Special Recruiting Programs

Agencies can utilize many programs to attract top

college students, including the Cooperative Education

Program, the Outstanding Scholar Program, Federal

Career Intern Program, and the Presidential Management

Fellowship program. These programs feature

streamlined hiring processes, work experience for potential

employees before college graduation, and faster

promotion potential for new federal employees.

The Cooperative Education Program allows students

enrolled in two- or four-year college programs

to work for federal agencies while enrolled in college.

Through a formal agreement between an agency and a

college, the work experience is treated as part of the students

overall educational program. Upon completion of

all college requirements for graduation, a student may be

converted to a competitive service appointment in the

agency, without competition, on the basis of an assessment

of their job performance while in the program.

The Outstanding Scholar Program allows agencies

to employ streamlined hiring processes and offer higher

salaries to college students graduating with a grade

point average of at least 3.5 (on a 4.0 scale) or in the

top 10 percent of their university or department. These

students are also hired into positions that provide them

faster promotions opportunities.

The Federal Career Intern Program allows agencies

to place college students in two-year internships that

may lead to permanent placement in the agency after

graduation. Created under Executive Order 13162 in

2000, the program covers positions at the trainee level

(generally grades GS-5, -7, and -9). For a list of internships

all agencies can use to hire college students, see


The Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF)

and similar programs give college graduates an opportunity

to apply the knowledge acquired from their graduate

education. It allows agencies to train students in

public policy and administration, domestic or international

issues, information technology, human resources,

engineering, health and medical sciences, law, financial

management, and many other fields in support of public-

service programs. Since 1977, these programs have

attracted outstanding graduate, law, and doctoral-level

students and led many students to rewarding federal careers.

However, these programs are relatively unknown

to those not associated with the federal government.

University Presence

Agencies must establish and maintain a visible presence

on college campuses, particularly in the departments

they target for potential employees. For example,

agencies seeking acquisition specialists should build coalitions

with university business departments and make

frequent visits to meet with students. These relationships

should be fortified by a sponsor from the agency and

from the partnering university. In addition to making

visits for recruitment purposes, agencies should give

seminars, sponsor student visits to the agency, and offer

training programs to instill student interest in federal

employment as early as their freshman year. These coalitions

should be built with universities offering undergraduate,

graduate, and professional programs.

Coalitions with High Schools

Instilling the desire for federal employment in young

people should begin early. Because a strategic plan is

based on meeting goals as far out as ten years, agencies

should also build coalitions with high schools. As with

college students, agency personnel should hold seminars,

sponsor agency visits, and offer training and tutoring

programs. Over the last two generations, Americans

trust in the federal government has declined. To reverse

this trend, government must make a concerted effort

to reconstruct civic virtue. Cultivating the attitudes of

young people toward government should rekindle interest

in civic engagement and employment in the federal

government. Civic education must be emphasized

in K12 school curriculums, particularly in high school,

for students to understand the importance of government

and its political institutions and processes.

Incentives for Top Graduates

Private companies provide several types of incentives

to attract new employees. These include signing

bonuses, payment of relocation expenses, and student

loan repayment programs. Federal agencies offer some

of these incentives, but not with the flexibility of private

companies. Agencies are hampered by regulations, they

face greater financial restraints than private firms, and

many of these incentives are at the discretion of individual

departments or hiring officials. For example, the

federal student loan repayment program permits agencies

to repay federally insured student loans as a recruitment

or retention incentive for candidates or current

employees. An employee receiving this benefit must sign

a service agreement to remain in the service of the paying

agency for at least three years. According to the U.S.

Office of Personnel Management (OPM), in fiscal year

2007, thirty-three federal agencies provided more than

6,600 employees with a total of more than $42 million

in student loan repayment benefitsan average benefit

of more than $6,000 per employee.

New Job Fit

When new employees are recruited for and hired

into positions that match their skills, experiences, and

interests, retention improves. The retention rate of college

graduates in federal service five years after employment

in the 1990s was lower than that for college graduates

across all industries. However, agencies with more

positions that require knowledge-based skills (those

possessing a greater percentage of white-collar professional

occupations that require college degrees) retained

top college graduates better than agencies with fewer

positions that were knowledge based.

Minority Recruitment

As the population of minorities increases over the

coming decades (particularly the Hispanic population),

agencies must aggressively recruit minority employees

to ensure they sustain their personnel levels with an employee

pool that represents the nations demographics.

Many agencies have a representative population of minorities

in lower-level positions, but few minorities in

top-level positions (particularly at the Senior Executive

Service level). They need to partner with historically

black colleges and universities to recruit more minorities.

These institutions, numbering more than one hundred,

are ready resources for federal agencies wanting to

recruit top-notch individuals for their agencies. Along

with forming an alliance with historically black colleges,

agencies should also contact career service offices at predominantly

white universities to seek African-American,

Hispanic, Asian, and female students. All universities

have career services on their campuses, and most are

anxious to connect students with potential employers.

Agency representatives can also build relationships with

professors who teach in public administration and political

science programs to identify high-achieving minority

students enrolled in their courses.

Fair Recruitment

The federal hiring process has been the benchmark

by which private organizations have developed

their merit systems of recruitment. However, some federal

agencies are compromising this system of merit by

streamlining their hiring processes to the extreme by not

interviewing all qualified applicants or not providing

documented justification to employees not selected for

positions. This has resulted in some current employees

not applying for promotions and prospective employees

not applying for positions with certain agencies.

Agencies must ensure fairness and merit are part

of their hiring processes, including documenting the

results of application reviews and interviews. All applicants

who have applied for positions should have


prompt access to documentation pertaining to their application.

Additional documentation should be provided

to applicants who should have been given special hiring

consideration, such as those who are mentally or

physically challenged and those from underrepresented

groups (such as minorities or women applying for jobs

where they are poorly represented).

Generation Theory

Members of Generation X (born between1961

and 1980) and Generation Y (born after 1980) share

common attributes. Academically, these generations are

smarter than any before due to their constant exposure

to technological breakthroughs. Socially, they are individualistic

and do not trust formal institutions due to

their having to fend for themselves while their parents

worked long hours, divorced in record numbers, or never

married but still had children. They are racially diverse,

politically liberal, and pessimistic about the future. They

are risk takers, embrace change, desire the freedom to

express themselves, and are very good communicators.

These traits guide the way they approach and behave in

social and professional environments, as well as the types

of jobs and organizations to which they are attracted. An

agencys ability to satisfy their needs relies on the personality

attributes and attitudes of its people, the specific

characteristics of its jobs, and its culture.

Generation theory holds that Generations X and

Y desire interesting jobs with meaningful content, seek

a balance between their professional and personal lives,

are mobile, believe education is a lifelong process, desire

job independence, are technologically savvy, desire jobs

with good benefits, and desire feedback and a chance to

learn new things. Job-fit theory holds that meeting all

these needs will result in increased recruitment, job satisfaction,

lower turnover, longer tenure, organizational

commitment, and better job performance.


Federal agencies do a poor job of capitalizing on

their occupational benefits because they lack structured

advertising and recruitment programs. Beyond competitive

pay and job security, agencies offer flexible work

schedules, telework, exceptional and flexible benefit

packages, tuition reimbursement programs, student loan

repayment, national and international opportunities for

travel, and a host of other benefits. However, agencies

should do a better job of educating potential employees

on what they offer.

Federal agencies should follow the examples of the

military services and private sector in advertising to become

more competitive in attracting young workers.

They must utilize new and innovative marketing strategies.

Federal agencies can create attractive commercials

and public-service announcements to air on MTV, VH1,

TV1, BET, and other television stations that appeal to

young people and minorities. Moreover, agencies can use

social networking sites such as MySpace, FaceBook, and

BlackPlanet to recruit potential young federal employees.

Alternative Hiring Programs

Qualified applicants can be found in other groups

besides college graduates. The many sources of eligible

candidates include military service veterans, spouses of

military service men and women, private-sector employees

seeking career changes, and applicants who do

not have college degrees who can be hired with the

requirement that they complete a minimum level of

college education or obtain degrees within a specified

period after employment.


Job Fit

Although higher-paying positions attract employees,

top college graduates also seek positions that are

both challenging and congruent with their backgrounds

(degree field). When agencies hire employees into positions

outside of their educational fields, retention is less

likely. This may greatly hamper employees future promotion

aspirations, particularly when jobs they compete

for have educational stipulations (such as procurement

positions that require a minimum of twenty-four hours

of coursework in business-related classes).

Generation Theory

Generation and job-fit theories indicate that sectors

of employees share similar values and interests, and their

hiring agencies must satisfy these needs to retain them.

Members of Generations X and Y desire meaningful job

content, seek a balance between their professional and

personal lives, desire job independence, good benefits,

feedback, and a chance to learn new things. When these

needs are met, recruitment increases and turnover decreases.

For example, occupational mobility, continuous

opportunity for educational advancement, good benefits,

and feedback result in increased job satisfaction,

lower turnover, and longer tenure.

Rotation Programs and Cross-Training

Rotations allow employees to learn about different

facets of the organization by spending time in positions

in different departments. They are then exposed to various

challenges (which build their interest) and are able

to better understand the mission and function of the entire

organization. Rotation programs increase employee

commitment to the organization and therefore lead to

increased retention. Cross-training can be used in virtually

all federal agencies to increase job enrichment. New

skills make employees more valuable through greater

knowledge, responsiveness, and efficiency. Learning new

job skills also stimulates employees and reduces their

potential for boredom or complacency. Some employees

are unsuitable for this training, including those more

comfortable in familiar routines and those in critical or

sensitive positions that do not allow cross-training.

Fast-Track Promotion Programs

The time it takes for career advancement has historically

been a negative aspect of federal employment.

Most positions have at least a one-year wait before competition

for a promotion, and as the employee advances

in a career path, the requirements for promotion opportunities

increase. Agencies should develop structured

methods for exceptional employees to take advantage of

faster tracks for career advancement. Otherwise, these

employees may quickly feel stagnant in their positions

and grow tired of the slow pace of their career advancement.

They will then seek opportunities in other agencies

or outside of the federal government.

Mentor Programs

Mentor programs offer new employees the opportunity

to work with experts in their fields. These programs

help new employees to quickly adjust to their new

jobs, build professional relationships between new and

current employees, and give new employees the ability

to obtain real-life and hands-on experience that cannot

be gained from traditional training. They also catalyze

retention because mentored employees feel a sense of

pride and organizational commitment by being chosen

to participate. Empirical research shows that mentoring

programs are successful, and they are important in career

success and retention.

Tailored Management

Public administrators must manage a diverse workforce

with varied cultural backgrounds, interests, and

experiences. The same supervisory approach cannot be

applied to all of these employees. Effective managers

recognize the uniqueness of each person and capitalize

on the individuals ability to express unique viewpoints

and inputs to problems. Employees also carry problems

from work into their personal lives and bring personal

problems into their professional lives. Although employees

are expected to maintain a degree of professionalism

at all times, supervisors cannot ignore the effects of employees

personal lives at work. They must manage the

whole person. Rather than just punishing an employee

who suddenly becomes nonproductive, a supervisor

should first attempt to determine whether a personal

issue is causing problems at work. In most instances, this

will lead to an appreciative employee who is more dedicated

to the organization.

Managing Diversity

After recruiting employees from diverse programs,

agencies must be able to effectively manage them. This

requires supervisory sensitivity and appreciation of employees

from differing cultures and ethnic backgrounds.

Often, supervisory and management training is required

to ensure leaders are able to understand and respond to

the needs of a diverse employee population. Managing

diversity is also part of managing the whole person.

Tuition Plans

Tuition reimbursement programs are not only an

excellent recruiting program, but also one that leads to

higher retention levels. Employees obtain advanced degrees,

and agencies benefit from employees with greater

skills to contribute to the mission of the organization.

These programs are often offered with the stipulation

that employees remain in the employment of their

agency for some specified period (for example, up to

three years after completing their degrees).

Performance Incentives

Performance incentives are the key component to

performance-based employee management, in which

employees are evaluated and rewarded on the basis of

results-oriented goals and objectives established by the

supervisor and employee. By achieving threshold levels

of performance, employees are given such incentives

as monetary awards, time off, participation in rotation

programs, or special training opportunities. Incentives

should be provided for individual and team achievements.

All of these are motivational incentives that enhance

employee retention.

Alumni Employees

Once employees retire from an agency, they are able

to continue contributing to that agencys growth and employee

development through programs that allow them

to share their experiences and expertise with current

employees. This is accomplished through agency alumni

programs where retired employees can act as mentors to

new employees or interact with them through agencysponsored

social activities. For example, agencies can host

employee alumni days where retired employees meet

with new employees in the workplace. Some retired employees

would be willing to participate at no cost because

of the intrinsic reward of continuing to contribute to the

mission of the agency, shaping the future leaders of the

government, and serving their country.

Flexible Work

The use of flexible work arrangements contributes

significantly to employee retention. Telework allows employees

to work from home or other locations outside

of the traditional work environment. Alternate work

schedules allow employees to work fewer workdays by

working longer hours during the days they are scheduled

to work. For example, employees may work only

four days a week by working a compressed schedule of

four ten-hour days. Flexible hours allow employees to

report to work between core work hours. For example,

employees are permitted to report to work at anytime

from 6:00 am to 10:00 am, but are still required to work

an eight-hour day. Other flexible work programs include

part-time jobs and job-sharing.

Considerations for Implementing

Recruitment and Retention Programs

Agencies and managers must carefully plan the

implementation of recruitment and retention programs,

considering such factors as the mission of the organization

and program costs. The following subsections discuss

some factors that must be evaluated.


Accomplishing the mission of the organization is

the paramount consideration in implementing any recruitment

or retention program. Each program must

contribute to sustaining the organization and its ability

to meet its statutory mandate. For example, tuition

reimbursement should only be granted to employees

when the classes they are attending or degree they are

obtaining directly relates to the duties required of their

position. It should also be commensurate with the level

of responsibility and authority of that position. An employee

with clerical duties wouldnt require a PhD in

executive leadership. An acquisition specialist wouldnt

require a class in advanced physics.


Agencies should ensure recruitment and retention

programs do not violate laws and regulations. For example,

the hiring process should not be eased to the point

of hiring employees who are not legal citizens or those

with criminal backgrounds that make them unsuitable

for sensitive positions impacting national security.

Criticality of Positions

All potential or current positions do not qualify for

certain types of employee retention programs. Policemen

and firemen may not telework. Employees may not

take top-secret information home during telework, and

agencies must ensure employees accessing government

systems are doing so through secure networks.

Office Needs

Managers and supervisors should be flexible in using

retention programs, but must ensure the duties of

their offices are being accomplished. For example, employees

should be allowed to take advantage of flexible

work schedules, but some supervisors may not be able to

allow every employee to do so because it would result in

a majority of their employees being off on Fridays. This

is particularly the case when customers require direct

contact with employees.

Benefits and Costs

Agencies must weigh the benefits and costs of programs.

For example, allowing an employee to attend a

graduate program costing $40,000 a year is not feasible

when another university offers a program of comparable

work-related value for $10,000.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO)

has identified measures and risk indicators that can be

used to assess the effectiveness of an agencys human

capital strategy, specifically the success of its recruitment

and retention initiatives. In addition to reviewing internal

data, agencies may find it useful to benchmark their

human capital data against those of high-performing

public- and private-sector organizations with comparable

missions and circumstances.


Recruitment and retention programs require planning

and execution that benefits the agency in the long

term. They should be part of a strategic human capital

management plan designed to sustain or improve the

agencys ability to fulfill its mission and enhance customer

support. The benefits of these programs are almost

immeasurable. In light of the impending exodus of

almost half of the federal governments workforce due

to retirement, agencies must take steps to ensure they

can attract and retain qualified workers. This is perhaps

the most urgent task and greatest obstacle federal agencies

are facing. The recruitment and retention programs

discussed in this article, in conjunction with a strategic

human capital plan, will allow agencies to meet this

challenge and ensure the future ability of the federal

government to serve the needs of the United States.