Like their private sector counterparts, public sector employers have had their share of struggles attracting talent in a competitive job market.
Part of the reason why public sector organizations aren’t finding the quality candidates they need is that government roles are netting fewer applicants overall. Consider a recent survey from NEOGOV, which indicated a 56% drop in applications per open public sector job between 2021 and 2022, with roughly a quarter of all government openings receiving seven applicants or fewer in that time span, according to Route Fifty.
The speed of the public sector hiring process, or lack thereof, is likely deterring some candidates. The aforementioned survey posed a series of open-ended questions, asking participants to share some takeaways from their public sector candidate experience.
A lack of communication and the sheer length of the process were sore spots for many.
“It took forever,” said one respondent. “By the time someone reached out to me about a background check, I had been offered [and started training for] a position in the private sector.”
When applying for government jobs, “I often do not receive a response or feedback,” another survey participant said. “Applications tend to sit in ‘reviewed.’ If I am not considered for the position, it is helpful feedback to know why or whether the position was filled.”
One government agency is taking steps to speed up hiring, with the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) reaching an agreement with the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE) that the VA hopes will supercharge the hiring process for many VA roles.
Earlier this month, the VA reached three key agreements with the NFFE that will help the VA “better serve veterans and support VA’s employees,” according to a VA statement. Among those agreements was a memorandum of understanding that the VA says will “significantly expedite” the hiring process for roles in the NFFE’s bargaining unit.
Getting Workers in the Door
NFFE General Counsel Jeff Friday recently told Federal News Network that the agreement allows the VA to proceed with the next steps of the hiring process within three days of posting a job announcement, rather than the previous standard of 15 days.
“The No. 1 issue that our folks we represent at the VA have,” said Friday, “is workload, a lack of staffing [and] the VA’s inability to get people in the door.”
These new agreements are part of the VA’s broader efforts to support bargaining unit employees, according to the organization, which notes that more than 9,000 of the VA’s public servants are represented by NFFE, including VA nurses, medical officers, pharmacists and social workers.
“These new agreements provide critical support for VA’s public servants—which, in turn, helps us better serve our nation’s veterans, their families, caregivers and survivors,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough, in a statement.
Friday told Federal News Network that the agreement should ultimately enable the VA to shorten the hiring process by at least a few weeks, noting that the VA also has the option to extend posting periods for positions beyond three days if needed, or to reissue a job posting if necessary.
“To some extent, the 15-day thing may have been anachronistic or old-timey,” Friday said in an interview with Federal News Network. “Now with USA Jobs, you can get an alert on your phone, if you have certain keywords in there, where you should be able to get a text when a job becomes open that you’re interested in.”
Naturally, a longer application period offers more time to complete the process. But, Friday told Federal News Network that the shorter timeframe doesn’t figure to prevent interested candidates from applying for VA roles, adding that the 15-day window has been a source of frustration for VA employees and management alike.
“We’re giving something up, in the sense [that] the 15-day notice gives people longer to apply for a job. … But the bigger problem for our folks is having enough co-workers to do the job.”