Federal workforce 2014: Hiring millennials and closing the STEM skills gap


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The big question facing the federal workforce in 2014 was one that persists year after year: How does government compete with the perk-filled, high-salary private sector for the innovative minds starting their careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields?

The Office of Personnel Management, led by new Director Katherine Archuleta, introduced several initiatives targeting millennials, who are largely grouped into the STEM-educated, innovative class and will be tasked with replenishing the federal workforce as the baby boomers set to retire. OPM took an inherently digital push, attempting to pose the federal government as a digital equal to the workplaces in the private sector that offer flexible work arrangements, mobility and the ability to work remotely. Throughout the year, Archuleta and her team released several new tools to help federal leadership learn about their workforce and improve efficiency and effectiveness. After the damning release of the 2014 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, OPM is looking to Unlocktalent.gov dashboard to help managers dive deep into the response of their employees and make the federal workforce a stronger one.

The Partnership for Public Service released a statistic earlier this year (and OPM confirmed it) that working-age millennials — those between the ages of 18 and 34 — made up just 16 percent of the federal government. That’s far less than the nation’s total millennial workforce of 36 percent and still short of the total of the American millennial population, which is about a quarter of the total population. By 2025, just a decade out now, Deloitte and the Brooking Institution believe millennials will comprise 75 percent of the nation’s workforce.

While 16 percent doesn’t cut it, PPS did find some positive trends on millennial and STEM growth in government.

“The federal government strives to have a workforce that is actually representative of the country,” said Tim McManus, vice president of education and outreach for PPS. “One of the great signs I saw of this data is a little over 20 percent of all of the new hires were under 30 years old. If you look at the total percent of people under 30 in the U.S. workforce, it equates to about 23 percent.”

Likewise, 39.1 percent of all federal hires in fiscal year 2013 were in STEM fields, PPS found.

“Clearly there’s a huge emphasis and a huge push to ensure that government is securing its technical infrastructure and I think that’s actually part of that increase in STEM hiring,” McManus said. Despite the report showing a decrease in federal IT hires between 2012 and 2013 of almost 1,400 new employees — something happening in most sectors governmentwide — IT is the seventh most popular occupational group in government hiring, bringing in 4.4 percent of 2013’s total new federal employees.

“You’re not going to see hiring in STEM shrink, because the way to greater efficiency and effectiveness is oftentimes through systems and structures,” McManus said. “And you need people to actually develop those. And a lot of that comes from the IT community. On a whole, hiring is down a bit, but for those in the IT field I think there’s a pretty bright future for opportunities in government.”

Of course STEM isn’t exclusive to millennials, and the federal government reached to other communities to close the skills gap. The federal government is increasingly looking to veterans returning from combat to enter the highly technical vacancies in the workforce. OPM announced recently that it plans to add a STEM category to its Vets to Feds (V2F) Career Development Program. OPM even started offering higher salaries to attract more STEM talent.

FedScoop hosted its first-ever Tech Town Hall event in 2014, recognizing the importance of STEM education to the government and bringing together hundreds of thought leaders from around the country to discuss the barriers federal agencies face. Read more about that here, and visit the event wrap-up page to see more.

Big Story of 2014

OPM unveils plan to innovate the federal workforce

By Billy Mitchell · Thursday, July 03, 2014 · 2:58 p.m.

Read more of our 2014 wrap-up coverage:

2014 Year-in-Review: Big names and big stories

Federal IT acquisition 2014: A year of reform

2014 forges a new, more comfortable relationship with cloud for government

Congress 2014: The year of unfinished business

Cybersecurity 2014: The battle for mindshare

Defense 2014: The year of strategies and women

FAA 2014: From UAS integration to NextGen

The FCC’s 2014 in the spotlight may be just the beginning

Health IT 2014: The push toward interoperable data

Patent and Trademark 2014: The downfall of a teleworking leader

Veterans Affairs 2014: The Year of Being Held Accountable

White House 2014: Departures, digital service and Google

-In this Story-

Agencies, Archives, Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Justice (DOJ), Departments, Government IT News, Katherine Archuleta, Millennials, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), STEM, workforce