Of the People: Virtual job fairs are the wave of the future

Ira Hobbs

As I wrote this, we in the federal government were about to establish a new mark in the history of personnel recruitment.

Thanks to the aggressive effort of the Office of Personnel Management, last week the federal government held its first ever completely online job fair to recruit IT workers. For the first time, people seeking jobs with the government could go to one place and easily apply for open positions at most federal agencies'from their PCs.

This is serious stuff. To understand just how serious, let me take you back a few years. In 1998, in the midst of the high-tech boom, federal executives knew our IT work force was in trouble, but we didn't realize how much trouble. Nor did we know what to do about it.

The CIO Council began by documenting the high demand for and short supply of IT workers nationwide. We documented that compensation was an issue and worked with OPM to increase pay for computer specialists, computer engineers and computer science specialists in the GS-5 through GS-12 grades. We documented that the old job classification system was a major hiring obstacle and, with help from OPM, the new 2210 series was born.

Another key work force challenge in government recruiting is our slowness in selecting and getting candidates onboard'our speed-to-seat factor. Every manager has experienced situations where it takes six months, eight months or a year to hire someone. In reality, the government is capable of fast action, but it needs to change this perception to attract IT applicants.

Virtual IT job fairs start to address the problem. Within 10 days of the close of last week's job fair, agencies should receive their job candidate lists for each position advertised. At that point, agency managers can either fill their open positions immediately or initiate interviews to narrow the field of applicants.

Either way, managers must make offers within 30 days of receiving the list of qualified job candidates, or the register will expire. That's a huge improvement over the minimum of three months and average of nine months it now takes the government to hire someone.

If I were a betting man, I'd say this is the wave of the future. Externally, online job fairs are citizen-centered, presenting a simplified and organized face to those seeking employment with the government. Internally, online job fairs let managers leverage resources across agencies, leaving individual agencies and managers the flexibility they need to find and hire the right employee.

So yes, I think we will see this process move beyond IT and across all government occupations.

In the larger picture, job fairs, whether online or in person, are just another tool in the toolkit. They give managers the ability to hire quickly and efficiently. But for success, managers must be proactive in using these tools to make the federal government a competitive employer in the eyes of the next generation of IT professionals. Personal engagement, coupled with the right tools, will make all the difference.

Ira Hobbs is acting chief information officer at the Agriculture Department and a member of the CIO Council.

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