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When federal HR resources are depleted, what can be done?
A lack of human resources staff and inadequate training, high attrition and overwork for HR professionals are among the challenges contributing to the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS's) failure to attract the more than 1.2 million applicants it needs to fill 15,000 border patrol and immigration positions, according to a new report.
"Without enough sufficiently trained HR staff and comprehensive recruiting strategies to attract qualified candidates, even the best workforce staffing plans cannot be completed," the department's Office of Inspector General (OIG) wrote in its July 27 report to then-DHS Secretary John Kelly, who recently became White House chief of staff.
In January, President Donald Trump issued two executive orders directing the DHS to hire an additional 5,000 border patrol agents and 10,000 immigration officers. The orders state that, at the very least, the border patrol agent hiring should happen "as soon as is practicable."
But because of a stringent federal hiring process designed to weed out unqualified job seekers, the OIG report estimates that the department needs to attract 750,000 border patrol agent applicants and 501,750 immigration officer applicants to meet that goal. The DHS, the OIG writes, simply doesn't have the staff, training or resources—including those in HR—to comply in a timely manner.
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Advice from the Private Sector
In the private sector, where it has become difficult to attract talented applicants, recruiters and HR departments are no strangers to such challenges.
"With a tight labor market, top talent is most likely gainfully employed and not scouring the job boards," said Aubrey Robison, president, co-owner and workforce solutions expert at Atlanta-based staffing firm Spherion Staffing Intermountain West.
In October 2016, the OIG reported that the DHS hiring process for law enforcement applicants contributed to "lengthy hiring times, and that components did not have the human resources staff or comprehensive automated systems needed to hire personnel as efficiently as possible." That same report pointed out that the DHS's HR "administrative environment includes fragmented systems, duplicative and paper-based processes, and little uniformity of data management practices."
The 2016 attrition rate for the DHS's HR occupations was 11.8 percent, and the department's HR servicing ratio ranked last among all large federal agencies: one HR position for every 148 employees, versus the average of 1 to 94, the OIG reported. "Further, most DHS HR staffing and classification personnel had not received the necessary training to become more knowledgeable of available resources to support their customers," the OIG wrote.
"Although DHS has established plans and initiated actions to begin an aggressive hiring surge, in recent years the Department and its components have encountered notable difficulties related to long hire times, proper allocation of staff, and the supply of human resources," the OIG wrote in its July 27 report. That report estimates that the DHS must hire 360 more HR staffers to adequately comply with the president's executive orders.
"When an HR department is understaffed or lacks resources to effectively recruit the amount of applicants needed to fill positions, often it makes sense to leverage strategic partnerships such as staffing agencies or employment offices," Robison said. "These organizations have large candidate databases including passive candidates, but hearing from a trusted workforce consultant may open them to exploring new opportunities. Having a partner who's already built a relationship and has a direct line of communication with them casts the applicant pool net much wider."
When HR is faced with an understaffed team, it can also consider relinquishing control entirely and relying on an outside recruiter, said Jon Langford, director of solution design and sales and marketing at San Jose, Calif.-based Pierpoint International.
"This option has more appeal in situations where there isn't adequate time to staff internally ahead of the project or where the hiring needs are more immediate," he said. "Outsourced providers are generally flexible enough to work on a time and materials model or on an hourly or a cost-per-hire model, allowing HR a hiring solution that scales with their recruitment demand."
Said Ilene Siscovick, a partner in global consultancy Mercer's career business unit: "HR leaders should take a multipronged approach. This is the time to look for online recruiting tools to broaden the potential supply of the talent pool. In addition, HR leaders should think not just about what's required of the traditional role, but about the skills that are needed to do the work—which will also broaden the talent pool."
Robison also noted that social media is critical to modern-day recruiting.
"Engagement beyond just ads is where the real power lies," she said. "Social media is a powerful resource. Knowing where your candidates 'click' is a huge factor in getting their attention. Getting candidates to click all the way through the application process is a science, but this is how talent today operates."
The DHS intends to initially send the 5,000 new border patrol agents to the nation's southwest border and move 1,650 to other locations, including the nation's coastal and northern borders, its special operations group, and its headquarters, according to the report. The immigration agents would be dispersed to various regions.
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