Meeting Public-Sector Personnel Challenges

The public sector is faced with unique personnel issues. Decreasing retention rates, budget constraints, and the need for increased scrutiny can make the hiring process seem daunting. Adding to the potential hurdles, "wrong" choices can increase turnover and jeopardize deliverables, which can cause a chain reaction of even further security and budget difficulties.

One solution in particular is showing increasing use – and successful results – within the public sector: pre-employment testing.

Pre-employment testing was once a targeted solution designed to meet a specific need. Having significantly matured, pre-employment testing is now much more about hiring the right person for the job – a person whose background, experience, and personality type fits in with the overall needs of the Agency. It is a more in-depth way to evaluate which applicant would be a good fit for a particular position or organization.

Today, pre-employment testing not only helps Agencies attract and keep staffers, but also provides Agencies with a more productive and satisfied workforce, while reducing overall costs and scheduling uncertainty. This more holistic assessment process often continues to benefit the Agency years after the initial hiring decision and can be a transformational force within individual teams.

The Way It Was
As few as five years ago, pre-employment testing was based heavily on issues of a psychological nature. Thought processes, decision making processes, and ethics – dubbed "soft skills" – were the primary focus. These factors were quite often deemed the only measures necessary to determine if a candidate was a good fit within the Agency.

At the same time, albeit independently, Agencies were also using candidates' "hard skills," including certifications and technical proficiency, as primary criteria for gauging qualifications. Is the candidate an expert in Oracle technology? Microsoft technology? These,were often sole determining factors for whether or not the candidate got the job.

Yet today, Agencies are under intense pressure to meet presidential directives and government-wide initiatives, many of which involve implementing cutting-edge technologies to improve operational efficiencies.

A staffer hired for being a Microsoft expert may find himself locked into a dead-end position when an Agency begins implementing Sun Microsystems for higher-end operations. Similarly, an Agency may find that the Microsoft expert they just hired cannot work on the new Sun project, which means bringing on another staffer.

Budgets are tightening as well. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, it costs approximately $40,000 to hire an employee that makes $20,000 a year. That figure includes things such as training costs, hiring time, finding fees, benefits, etc. Additionally, lost productivity during the 'learning curve' is a more elusive, but nonetheless significant, cost associated with employee retention and recruitment. And, as the Department of Labor also estimates that as many as half of all new employees leave their jobs within six months, retention is critical in controlling costs.

Moving forward
These driving factors – an increasingly fast-paced environment and tighter budgets – as well as a greater understanding of what constitutes a solid candidate are bringing about much-needed change, resulting in much more effective pre-employment testing methods and a broader range of pre-employment testing options.

Customized Testing 
Agencies that want to develop their own tests can seek the expertise of a test development firm. Agencies meet with one of these companies to discuss the nature of the role they're looking to fill, identify the activities the employee will be expected to perform, and determine the structure of the proposed exam based on the frequency, criticality and importance of these tasks.

This route will cost between $25,000 and $45,000, although the cost remains the same no matter how many people take the test. Obviously, more people taking the test will lower the overall cost per candidate.

Combination Testing 
Many Agencies may require an IT certification before a candidate even walks in the door. IT certification tests generally run between $115 and $200 per test.

Once in the door, the Agency may want to implement a two-phase testing approach, covering hard and soft skills. Additional technical-skills tests can run anywhere from $45 to several hundred dollars per test. Internet-based IT tests can be more reasonably priced, depending on the scope and specific requirements of the particular test.  The needs of each Agency are unique so its important to select a vendor that can provide the delivery flexibility and options that best suit your specific requirements.

For the second phase, there is a library of psychological and psychometric tests available that focus on a range of topics, and cover a range of areas on which an Agency may want to focus their search.

Bottom Line 
Invest in your hiring decision, and invest in your staffers – that's the bottom line. Invest in certification testing as well as psychometric testing, so you can have a complete picture of the candidate, and each candidate is appropriately assessed. Pre-employment testing is more financially viable than you might imagine.

Take a holistic approach – taking a holistic approach means the employee will no longer be locked into a single set of skills, and will be able to change and grow with the job, and the Agency hiring manager will no longer spend time bringing on candidates that are proficient in an area that may be changing.

And once on the job, give staffers the opportunity to continue to enhance their skills. It is a myth that employers should not send people through certification programs because they will bargain for higher pay or take their certification and leave.

Statistically, the opposite is true. Statistics show that employees that are not given opportunities to grow leave with greater rapidity. Those that are given that opportunity tend to have longer tenure and show more loyalty.

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