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U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Ensuring the Federal Government has an effective civilian workforce

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Career Patterns Guide


Federal human capital managers are facing increasing competition in attracting and retaining talented men and women to work in the civilian workforce. To meet this challenge, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has developed the Career Patterns initiative - a new approach for bringing the next generation of employees into Federal Government positions. This guide introduces the Career Patterns way of viewing recruiting and presents techniques for identifying opportunities and crafting action plans to ensure employment efforts are successful.

The Changing Environment

The "new normal" for the 21st century workforce will bear little resemblance to that of the late 20th century in which many current Federal managers spent the majority of their careers. This is being exacerbated by several compelling trends that are converging to make immediate planning and action imperative, including:

  • A significant retirement wave among current Federal employees is coming - we should expect 40 percent of our workforce to retire between 2006 and 2015.
  • Competition for scarce talent among employers throughout the national economy is increasing.
  • The applicants we must attract hold differing expectations; their needs and interests have shifted from past generations, which means we must offer a wider variety of employer-employee relationships.

Adopting a 21st Century Mindset

Consider the traditional view of a Federal career - an entry-level employee joins an agency and spends the next 30-plus years coming to work five days a week, in an agency office, on a traditional schedule to provide valuable public service and meet that agency's mission.

That view will continue to describe many positions. However, more and more of the needed and available talent will be interested in something other than this traditional arrangement. To compete successfully for those potential employees, we must adapt to their expectations and create an environment that will support their success. The Federal Government must cultivate, accommodate and advertise the broad range of opportunities and arrangements that will characterize Federal careers in the future. In short, we must develop a new mindset. We are dealing with a 21st century challenge that requires a 21st century approach.

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The Career Patterns Approach

Building the environments to attract a wider range of potential employees will require planning and investment in equipment and training. Among other things, we must make sure our managers and leaders have the specific competencies to supervise and manage in nontraditional work settings. That is where the Career Patterns initiative comes in. Using this new approach, Federal human capital managers will be able to shape their workforce planning efforts to build and operate in a broad range of employer-employee arrangements where, for example:

  • Retired accountants from private sector firms bring their skills to a Federal agency as a commitment to public service.
  • Recent graduates in a specialized environmental management field form a cadre of mobile talent that deploys to wherever the need is greatest.
  • Mid-Career technology experts spend a few years on a groundbreaking Federal project before rotating back out to work in the private or non-profit sector.
  • Benefits adjudicators review cases and work from home at any hour of the day or night.

Many of the alternative work arrangements that will attract and retain talent are already permissible and in use in many agencies. With a Career Patterns mindset, we will come to think about those different arrangements - telework, flexible work schedules, and varied appointment types - as natural and regular ways of getting work done and not as aberrations.

Ensuring the Federal Government continues to have an effective civilian workforce is an achievable goal. But our success will be greatest if human capital managers throughout Government take a proactive, 21st century approach - the Career Patterns approach - to hiring.

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