No Degree? No Problem. The Changing Landscape for Government Job Seekers

There are nearly 200,000 job openings across the federal government. Within those openings, a large percentage are in the areas of Cybersecurity and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Building the workforce in these relatively new disciplines is forcing a new look at traditional requirements for careers in government.

The practice of skills-based hiring is gaining traction in government as a way to fill these important vacancies with a more diverse set of talent. Skill-based hiring involves looking beyond degrees and certifications and identifying candidates' skills that are applicable to the role. For example, a person may not have a computer science degree, but they have worked extensively with a key programming language or system in previous roles.

Uncovering Skills Not Experience

A candidate could have great experience. A four-year degree from a prestigious school. Past work with brand-name companies. But if you really dig in, you may find they don't actually possess the skills needed to get the job done.

Moving to a skill-based approach requires a significant change in how candidates are recruited and interviewed. Job requisitions need to be rewritten to highlight the actual skills and work required by a position. Degree preferences need to be removed. Resume reviews should no longer start with a scan of where someone went to school or prioritize people who worked for a name-brand company. Interview questions should be focused on behaviors, asking candidates, "Tell me about a time you provided great service" or "If faced with X scenario, how would you proceed?" The interview process might also need to include a skills test to allow the candidate to show competency with a specific programming language or piece of technology.

Matching Skills and Jobs

Organizations need to take a look at their roles and identify which ones truly need a four-year (or more) degree for a person to be successful. Healthcare providers and scientific researchers will likely require a four-year degree, but it may not be a huge differentiator for many IT and administrative roles. For these jobs, years of work experience or a proven ability to work hard and learn quickly could make someone incredibly successful.

Eliminating the Degree Stop Sign

With at least 20% of the workforce not holding a four-year degree, requiring higher education limits the ability to meet the demands of cyber and AI jobs. The universities do not even have the capacity to produce enough graduates to meet the demand. In fact, educational requirements in contracts have made it hard for contractors to hire the talent needed to execute government contracts. The White House has stated a commitment to eliminate college-degree requirements for contractors supporting cybersecurity work.

Once the need to have a four-year degree is lifted, the recruiting pools open to candidates with an associate degree or high school education and work experience. It also allows for increased use of apprenticeship and internship programs to grow talent within the government.

Increased Emphasis on Training

Even with the needed skills, there is still a fair amount of training that needs to be provided to ensure people are up to the specific demands of a job. On-the-job training models like Indiana's Learn and Earn program provide the training needed to be successful in a government role. In the private sector, IBM has a six-month curriculum for its cybersecurity apprenticeship program to ensure that employees, regardless of degree status, are ready to hit the ground running on any government contract they are placed.

For more on the evolving way the government is recruiting, training, and retaining its workforce, check out these resources from GovEvents and GovWhitePapers.

More details on government workforce trends are available at GovEvents and GovWhitePapers.

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