OPM builds out skills-based hiring guidance for federal agencies

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In a memo released Thursday, the Office of Personnel Management provided more detailed skills-based hiring guidance for federal agencies that builds on the high-level goals set by the Trump administration.

Agencies are being encouraged to evaluate job candidates based on their knowledge, rather than whether that knowledge came by a four-year degree. The guidance includes an updated General Schedule Qualifications Operating Manual; qualifications, assessment and hiring FAQs; and a new Guide to Better Occupational Questionnaires.

Federal hiring historically relied on education and candidate self-assessments to determine a potential hire’s ability to perform in a job. In June 2020, then-President Trump issued an executive order to modernize the process, an initiative that the Biden administration is advancing.

“At U.S. Digital Service, we have from the beginning used the skills-based hiring approach to identify and hire talent, as it has become the standard approach in the technology sector, based on its ability to hire skilled professionals no matter their formal background,” said Administrator Mina Hsiang in the announcement. “This hiring practice will also expand the government’s reach with diverse and historically unrepresented candidates, as well as increase the number of individuals with the right skills and experience to do the important work.”

USDS has a diverse, inclusive staff due to skills-based hiring, Hsiang said.

In fact, USDS was instrumental in introducing the Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment (SMEQA) job application process for data scientists now being customized by the State Department.

NASA uses competency-based talent assessments to hire everyone from interns to astronauts, and the Department of Homeland Security has a multi-hurdle assessment process to evaluate candidates for IT positions.

OPM updated the General Schedule Qualifications Operating Manual to apply minimum qualification requirements and use passing grade assessments, and the Guide to Better Occupational Questionnaires will improve their rigor by having agencies meet professional standards.

The agency plans to offer sessions and further guidance and tools as part of the Federal Assessment Strategy Initiative, as well as optional, hands-on human resources solutions implementation support for other agencies.

OPM is also working with teams to establish job positions and track progress toward agencies’ hiring goals.

“Given today’s booming labor market, the federal government must position itself to compete with other sectors for top talent,” said OPM Director Kiran Ahuja in a statement. “By focusing on what an applicant can do — and not where they learned to do it — skills-based hiring will expand talent pools by making it easier for applicants without a bachelor’s degree to demonstrate their skills and will help remove barriers to employment for historically under-represented groups.”

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS), hiring, Kiran Ahuja, Mina Hsiang, NASA, Office of Personnel Management (OPM), State Department, Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessment (SMEQA), U.S. Digital Service
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