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The Pathways Program: Getting the Right Young People on the Bus in the Federal Government

October 01, 2014
As a graduate student at the Fels Institute of Government, I constantly think about ways to improve government—particularly surrounding ways that government officials or public administrators can become better managers, thereby motivating staff to increase efficiency intrinsically. But, as I learned this past year in my performance management course, an important part of improving performance in both the public and private sector is getting the right people on the bus, not just pointing the bus in the right direction.[1]

By Mikecia Witherspoon, Fels MPA Program, ’16

In other words, though a public administrator may have their own grand schemes to motivate staff, hiring—getting the right people on the bus—is integral. “If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away … they will be self-motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great” (Collins, 42). But getting the right people on the bus is not an easy task—a lesson the federal government has been learning the hard way.

Over the years, the federal hiring process has become increasingly complicated due to laws and other process requirements mandating the manner in which government agencies can hire employees. Meanwhile, the private sector has largely remained free from process requirements allowing them to hire more quickly and efficiently. Though the government wants to recruit top talent, the federal hiring process is so slow and complex that it serves as an impediment to getting the right people on the bus as opposed to an advancement.

So where do I fit in this conversation about federal hiring? As a millennial who aspires to work in the public sector, I felt that it would be nearly impossible to be hired by a government agency. I was disenchanted by the hiring process, and troubled with the knowledge that just a year after earning my undergraduate degree only 8.5% of the total federal workforce was under 30 years.[2] I wanted to be on the federal government bus, but I felt that there were no way for me to get on. That was before I started my summer internship at the Partnership for Public Service; a bipartisan nonprofit organization that “works to revitalize the federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way that government works”. As the Constituent Relations Management/Marketing Fellow I learned much more about federal hiring practices and the work that the Partnership has done to help the government attract top talent.

I learned that 5.7% of students responding to the National Association of colleges and Employers (NACE) Student Survey listed federal service as their ideal career, and I realized that I wasn’t the only millennial attracted to a career in the federal government but anxious about the process. Most importantly, I learned that the federal government was continually trying to get the right people on the bus, and there was in fact, a new way for graduate students like me to get on thanks to the Pathways Program. 

The Pathways Program was introduced in 2012 after President Obama signed an Executive Order in 2010 to reform the federal government recruiting process.[3] Pathways consists of an internship program for high school and current college students, the Recent Graduate program which provides federal internships to recent college graduates, and the Presidential Management Fellows program which is a competitive leadership development program for graduate students allowing them to be converted to full-time Federal employees after completion. While Pathways is not a guarantee to get students and recent graduates interested in the federal government on the bus, it represents a ‘pathway’ (pun intended) for millennials like myself to get on while learning the skills and gaining the experience to stay on the bus long-term. Moreover, the Pathways Program demonstrates that the federal government is not only on its way to getting the right people on the bus, but its slowly turning the bus in the right direction on the road to efficiency.

I’ve learned a number of things and improved a variety of skills during my summer fellowship at the Partnership, but the most valuable things that I’ll leave here with are a renewed sense in the federal government and a desire to start my public sector career in it—most likely through the Pathways Program.   

                     



[1] Collins, James C. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–and Others Don’t. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001. Print.

[2] College Students Are Attracted to Federal Service, but Agencies Need to Capitalize on Their Interest. Issue brief. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Partnership for Public Service, Mar. 2014. Web. <http://ourpublicservice.org/OPS/publications/download.php?id=236>.

[3] http://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-authorities/students-recent-graduates/

 

 

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