Mid-career professionals looking to change careers are rarely welcomed into the federal government, according to a new study by the Partnership for Public Service
Professionals from outside of government were unable to apply for nearly half of the vacant mid-level civil service jobs in 2001, the study found, since 47 percent of all federal job vacancies at this level were not open to outside competition. In 2000, only 13 percent of mid-career hires were candidates who did not already hold federal jobs.
"These numbers should ring alarm bells for anyone concerned about the quality of government service in the future," said Partnership President Max Stier. "In the next five years more than half the federal workforce could be eligible to retire. The government is filled with competent, talented people. But we need to make sure that we are drawing from the largest talent pool available. If nothing is done to bring talented, mid-career professionals into federal service, government will face a serious skills gap in the near future."
According to the non-partisan organization, a lack of information about federal employment opportunities is the single greatest obstacle to recruitment. Non-federal workers may also harbor misperceptions about federal employment, including the nature of work, compensation and benefits.
Barriers to external hiring crop up at the agency level as well. In some cases, for example, the decision to restrict competition to internal candidates may be driven by a lack of resources or infrastructure needed to handle a larger applicant pool. Other barriers include legal and regulatory requirements that make the external hiring process more complex than internal processes. In some cases, organizational culture may constitute a major barrier to increased hiring competition. It has been common practice at many agencies to "grow their own" by hiring only at the entry level and filling most higher level positions from among current employees.
The Partnership for Public Service recommends increasing the applicant pool for mid-career hires in the federal government through a fellowship program, a competitive compensation system, and a streamlining of application and hiring processes. As well, federal jobs and their benefits should be advertised more broadly to increase awareness of federal job opportunities and debunk negative myths about federal employment.
The study notes: "As it enters the 21st century, the United States finds itself on the brink of an unprecedented crisis of competence in government. The maintenance of American power in the world depends on the quality of U.S. government personnel, civil and military, at all levels."