Coding it Forward Offers Roadmap for Recruiting Young People to Public Service

Last week, 53 college students completed a 10-week fellowship with the federal government called Coding it Forward, where they worked within agencies to improve data and technology projects. During their final presentations, several students discussed the importance of attracting young people to public service and opportunities for the government to improve their recruitment strategy.

Johncarlo Cerna, a computer science major at the University of Florida who worked with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services over the summer, said last week during the Civic Digital Fellowship Demo Day, “[The current fellows] all stumbled upon this program. But there are hundreds of people in college and just starting out their careers who really want to make big impacts in their careers. They want to use their skills to do good… Just having a presence. Saying, ‘Hey. We’re here, we’re doing really cool stuff and we’d like you to join us,’ that can go a long way to taking some of the really great talent and bringing it into your agency, which would be awesome.”

Attracting young people to the federal workforce has been a consistent challenge, with reports showing that less than 7 percent of the federal workforce is currently under 30 years old. As older workers retire, attracting new talent will be a necessity for the federal government.

Kristen Honey, innovator in residence in the Office of the Secretary at the Health and Human Services Department and one of the fellowship mentors, believes her agency is learning through this process.

“What our office learned is that if we frame challenges well, and if we give the youth some resources and let them run, get out of their way and let their creativity and innovations tackle these problems in new ways with their fresh thinking and their ideas, amazing things come out of it,” she said.

One of the key barriers to entry identified by fellows like Cerna is the hiring process within the federal government, which can often be lengthy and confusing. To assist with this, the Office of Personnel Management Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) program has focused on supporting students and expediting processes to get graduate students into the federal government.

Director of PMF Arianne Gallagher told FEDtalk last week, “We try to provide an open pathway and navigate [students] through the process. We have an open application system that involves both submitting academic credentials and completing an assessment. We are very upfront and transparent about exactly what that assessment is meant to assess for… We provide an assessment preparation guide.”

PMF has also streamlined the fellowship application process from over four months to six weeks.

First and foremost, students encouraged the federal government to bring more fellows and interns into the federal workforce.

“Hire more fellows,” Cerna said. “We’re surprisingly cheap.”

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