Articles, speeches and presentations on the crisis in human capital tend to look at the alleged crisis from a macro viewpoint. Senators, Representatives and high-ranking civil servants expound on broad reforms that will fundamentally change the civil service for the better (or so they would have us believe).
We have been listening to experts talk about the crisis for years now, and how many of these visions of reform are anywhere near the reality of implementation? Don’t rack your brain trying to think of any – all you’ll get is a headache. At this rate, all of the baby boomers will be long retired before we have a solution to this crisis that is supposedly going to be brought about by their retirement.
There are, however, many micro actions that we can take in the organization to improve the situation. These actions have been around a long time, under the rubric of career development. A “career development program” doesn’t have the sound of “micro-level human capital intervention”, but it’s the same thing.
A good career development program will let us come as close as the strictures of the merit system will let us to succession planning.
First, the program will encourage employees to look at themselves, their interests, skills and abilities. This may take the form of a career counselor or employee development specialist conducting individual assessments and/or having individual counseling sessions with employees. There is also high-quality career development software that can be purchased from many vendors.
Second, a good career development program will provide information and resources that employees can use to find out about opportunities in the organization. This may take the form of “career days”, mentor programs, or knowledge networking.
After enhancing their knowledge of themselves and of the organization, employees will be better able to make wise career choices. They will be able to tie their goals into those of the agency.
This is where individual development planning comes into play. Individual Development Plans (IDPs) have gotten a bad rap. One reason for this is that they are frequently made mandatory by top management and implemented without the support of line managers. Another problem with IDPs is that they are often focused exclusively on training. When there is no training money available, no “developmental” activities take place. This overlooks the fact that there are many developmental activities that can be undertaken that are not dependent on agency funding of training (e.g., details, shadowing assignments, being assigned a mentor, etc.). A well-run IDP program can form the link between the goals of the individual and the needs of the organization.
Managers play a large role in developing their employees. During career discussions with their staff, they can become aware of the skills, goals and needs of each individual employee. This will help them assign challenging and developmental work to them. A high-ranking federal executive who was a strong supporter of career development once told me that the most important thing a manager can do to develop his or her employees is to assign them appropriate work.
Often career development programs include support in the job application process, such as resume writing or interviewing workshops, or individual assistance in those areas.
A career development program can be implemented at a local level and without an Act of Congress. It is a way that those of us on the front lines can deal with the potential crisis in human capital without having to wait for programs to trickle down from on high. Perhaps it should be considered by your agency.