Fall 2011
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The Public Manager

Charting Clearer Pathways Into Public Service

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Young government leaders and former interns suggest ways managers can recruit, develop, and retain young talent in federal agencies without breaking the budget.

Until recently, the Federal Career Intern Program (FCIP) was the largest federal program developed to offer career development opportunities to young professionals with a limited amount of prior work experience. In a hiring system that values experience over education and potential, the dissolution of FCIP last March created a need for a new program to recruit young professionals into public service. The proposed Pathways hiring and recruitment program could potentially fill this void and meet the needs to develop leaders and plan leadership succession in the federal government as Baby Boomers retire.


According to President Obama, the Pathways program has three tracks: Current Student Program, Recent Graduate Program, and the Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program. As part of the programs development, it is important to include certain measures to ensure the effectiveness of the new program. According to those surveyed by Young Government Leaders (YGL), it is critical that the Pathways program feature some autonomy for hiring managers, developmental opportunities for participants, and benefits to government agencies.

For many young professionals at the beginning of their careers, the under paid internship is a rite of passagea way to pay ones dues to guarantee better opportunities in the future. Though the mere proximity to leadership and challenging real -world problems have inspired countless students to serve and stay in the federal government, these positions often feature thankless and uninspiring tasks, such as fetching coffee, filing papers, and photocopying. Nonetheless, in the federal government, internships are the most effective way to recruit high -quality individuals with limited work experience into public service.

Wanted: Challenging Service Opportunities

Borrowing from the political ads refrain, theres got to be another way. If the federal government could provide more challenging opportunities to recent graduates and other young professionals, they might not only tap into a valuable talent pool of 18 to 24 year olds, but they also might keep them for decades. Nearly one in five of these young people is currently and perhaps unnecessarilyfacing real unemployment. It is critical that policy makers engage young government workers in the planning of the Pathways program.

YGL is a professional organization whose mission is to educate, inspire, and transform the current and future leaders of government. Its membership is comprised of more than 2,000 federal employees in nine chapters nationwide, representing the largest cross-agency association of young public servants in the United States. YGL recognized this opportunity to secure ideas about what should be expected and how Pathways might improve on earlier programs.

Survey Methodology

In May of 2011, YGL surveyed its 2,000 members as to what an effective internship program should look like. This survey focused primarily on the recent graduate aspect of the Pathways program and included 380 respondents with the following characteristics:

  • average age is 30
  • more than 80 percent had participated in a federal internship or fellowship program
  • 70 percent believed their internship was effective or very effective
  • 98 percent had at least a bachelors degree
  • 60 percent had a masters degree or higher
  • 74 percent currently work at federal grades 9 through 13.

These results indicate that to recruit the best talent, location and timing are important. Hiring managers should be active on campus prior to graduation so that they can effectively reach graduates. It is important that the Office of Personnel Management
Three Keys: Recruitment, Retention, Development

The survey set out to answer three particular questions:

1| How do you recruit the best talent?

2| How do you retain them?

3| How do you develop them once they are hired?

An internship program is only as effective as the quality of its participants. One of the questions that YGL asked its members was, Which of the following are the best modes for recruiting the best talent? There were only three responses that had more than a 50 percent response rate:

  • university job fairs, 83 percent
  • university career counselors, 60 percent
  • student ambassadors (through presentations and meetings), 57 percent.

Other methods such as community job fairs and USA Jobs, the federal government application website, received less than onethird support.
These results indicate that to recruit the best talent, location and timing are important. Hiring managers should be active on compus prior to graduation so that they can effectively reach graduates. It is important that the Office of Personnel Management allows individual agencies and managers the latitude to recruit directly from these sources of qualified talent.

Knowing where and when to recruit is only part of the puzzle. To create the best pipeline of talented employees to serve the United States, it is important to identify the best candidates to recruit. To that end, we asked our survey respondents, What level of education should be included in the recent grads program? The vast majority of respondents thought that bachelors (91 percent) and masters (84 percent) degree holders should be included. Almost 50 percent of the respondents also would like individuals with PhDs and professional degrees ( JD and MD) to be eligible. While the PMF program caters to those with a masters degree and above, individuals can only apply in their last year of graduate school and are thus only provided a single opportunity to apply and be accepted into the program.

It would be beneficial to young professionals as well as hiring managers if the Recent Graduate Program allowed those with a bachelors degree and above to apply to the program up to two years postgraduation. This would ensure that qualified individuals had more than one opportunity to apply for entrance into the program.

Part of any effective internship program is the ability to retain individuals once they are finished with their program. The YGL survey asked individuals, What are the biggest barriers in retaining employees after the two-year internship? Two responses were identified by more than 66 percent of respondents as a major barrier to retention:

1| quality of work assignments, 73 percent

2| career advancement opportunities, 70 percent.


What Interns Want

In addition to knowing what barriers are in place to retain an intern, it is also important to know what initiatives a manager or agency can undertake to create the best possible experience for their interns. The YGL survey asked, What should be included in the recent grads program?

There were 12 possible responses and an other category that only 8 percent of respondents included in their responses. Respondents were allowed to choose as many responses as they deemed appropriate.

Lowcost options such as rotational assignments, job shadowing opportunities, leadership training, formal mentorship, and meetings with higher level officials were the responses most listed by YGL as ways to create the best possible experience for interns. This information should prove particularly useful to managers who are looking for a less formal, less expensive way to recruit and retain the most qualified employees.

In addition to evaluating the effectiveness of potential programs, respondents also were asked to rate the effectiveness of formal mentorships and rotational assignments. For formal mentorships, 79 percent believed they were effective or very effective. Rotational assignments were rated even higher with 92 percent believing they were effective or very effective.

All five responses, which received more than 75 percent recommendation for the internship program activities, are lowcost training opportunities. Leadership training could be provided by nonprofit organizations or via free events put on by nongovernmental groups.

More costly internship activities such as a yearly conference, group orientation retreat, and agency paid continuing educationall rated less than 65 percent. While the responders have an interest in these activities, they do not consider them to be as critical as other options.

The YGL survey findings should be welcome in the current austere budget environment. Not only are the most popular measures on the survey the least resource intensive, they also support the retention of talent at the end of the internship.

Through the incorporation of highly desirable, lowcost practices such as rotational assignments, mentoring relationships, and shadowing opportunities, agencies secure huge returns on their investment in interns. If they can recruit, develop, and retain the young talent they stand a much greater chance of meeting their succession planning needs in the future.

Recommendations of past federal interns surveyed by YGL can easily be incorporated to transform the future of the Pathways program. Final guidance has yet to be released; however, the program represents a rare opportunity for the federal government to replenish its ranks with high-quality talent.

What should be included in the recent grads program? % Agree
Rotational assignments 84.8
Job shadowing opportunities 81.0
Leadership training 80.7
formal mentorship 77.7
Meetings with higher officials, including SES 76.6
Yearly conference (off-site training-speaker series, etc.) 63.6
Agency-paid continuing education 62.5
Group orientation retreat 54.9
Informal mentorship 52.7
Hiring recent grads in groups or pairs with an agency 48.9
Group assignments (book club, special projects, team building activities) 45.7
Newsletter among recent grads 39.7

Source: Young Government Leaders Survey

About the Author
About the Author
About the Author

Dave Uejio is a strategy program manager at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) in Washington, D.C. In that role, he provides strategic support to help the bureau achieve its mission of making markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans. Dave originally joined CFPB as its first Lead for Talent Acquisition, where he created a unique recruiting program to support the start-up of this highly visible 21st century federal agency. He has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

About the Author

Tyler Robinson is portfolio risk officer with the Export Import Bank and a former Presidential Management Fellow. He previously worked at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He chairs the board for Young Government Leaders and is director of the YGL Institute for Public Policy.

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