RPO & StaffingTalent Acquisition

As Government’s Needs Grow, RPO Gets a Closer Look

Facing an aging workforce, the federal government may adopt a cosourcing model to bolster its talent needs.

by Andy Teng
While recruitment process outsourcing has been broadly accepted in the commercial market for years, its penetration of the public sector has been anything but dynamic. That’s because like other domains in the spectrum of HRO services, RPO has been viewed with near disdain by bureaucrats. But with many agencies and departments seeing its workforce aging, could public sector employers rethink the role of outsourcing in their talent management strategy?

Some industry observers believe so, pointing out that recruitment process outsourcing is taking place today on various levels, although few contracts resemble some of the end-to-end solutions being delivered to commercial buyers. Services such as applicant tracking, sourcing, technology support, and others are being outsourced by government entities in a narrowly defined scope, and some believe that this will change as HRO makes greater inroads into government and other non-profit organizations. However, comprehensive RPO contracts covering the full lifecycle of recruitment are nearly nonexistent today in the public sector.

“There’s not the same understanding that you have in the commercial sector that you can procure these types of end-to-end services. We are talking about a market not aware of the commercial practices,” said Glenn Davidson, the public sector practice leader at sourcing advisory firm EquaTerra. He added, however, “This will change with time as organizations get frustrated with the slowness of the internal hiring process.”

Davidson explained that today a number of federal and some state agencies outsource specific services around recruitment. For instance, the USAJOBS employment portal, which lists federal openings throughout the country, is an outsourced solution provided by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and serves all federal agencies.

However, it is hardly an RPO solution similar to those often executed on the commercial side—one in which the provider delivers services ranging from sourcing to screening to on-boarding. Davidson pointed out that more government entities are seeking out discrete services that typically require little or no capital outlay by them, are systems based, and can be procured on a per seat or application basis.

With the average age of executive branch workforce at more than 45 years old and the average retirement age at 58 years old (according to 2006 OPM statistics, the latest year for which data is available), the trend is that a larger percentage of those workers are nearing retirement. Like any other large employer, the federal government will need to address issues such as succession, retention, and recruitment—the same challenges for which commercial employers turn to RPO providers.

The Outsourcing Stigma
But even as federal agencies face a talent crunch in the near future, the resistance to adopting an outsourced recruitment solution remains. The stigma around outsourcing continues to be a roadblock, and many managers tend to shy away from anything labeled as outsourcing.

“The government prefers not to call them anything. We like to call them cosourcing,” explained Adam Davidson, campaign recruitment partner for government agencies and contractors at Futurestep, the RPO arm of Korn/Ferry.

He said public sector buyers still don’t like the label of outsourcing, even though some are engaged in a number of RPO services. He said that agencies will never outsource 100 percent of the recruitment lifecycle, preferring to hold on to some aspects of the function. However, he said these entities can benefit from RPO on their biggest deficiency: sourcing candidates. Because many recruiters don’t have access to the latest technologies or trained in best practices, they engage in passive recruiting rather than active.

“The mindset of government recruiters is to just post an announcement and believe they will come,” he said. “I think federal recruiters need to be educated on the flexibilities of the hiring process.”

Futurestep’s Davidson said he believes the public sector will increasingly turn to a cosourcing recruiting model because internal resources are simply unable to fill what is expected to be a surge in hiring as part of President Obama’s new initiatives. He said political appointees may be in for a “pretty rude shock” as they try to execute on the President’s vision but get mired in finding the right talent.

But there are signs that the federal government is starting to loosen up when it comes to using external resources. Futurestep has engaged in two contracts with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior to support the agencies in their candidate sourcing efforts, including building a candidate attraction strategy and outreach. Adam Davidson added that these entities can also benefit from technology support because many existing systems simply don’t deliver the functionality that recruiters need. He said managers are already aware of these deficiencies, so now it’s just a matter of getting them to implement changes, which he conceded will be enormously challenging.

Still, Glenn Davidson said RPO will definitely make greater inroads. “I’d say there is a greater recognition of outsourcing’s contribution to effective and efficient government.”  

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