The role, distribution, and experiences of Federal HR Professionals has changed over the past 20 years. The technology of HR has also changed, but the implementation of technology has not significantly changed how agencies manage personnel paperwork processing. To fully benefit from technology modernization, agencies must understand their HR workforce.

Using data from OPM’s Federal Workforce Data in Fedscope, it is easy to see the ratio of HR Specialists to HR Assistants has significantly changed, just as the US Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) indicated in their recent research brief, “The State of the Federal HR Workforce: Changes and Challenges”. We conducted analysis of the data in the 0200 Job Family to account for the changes and consolidation of HR job series over the past 20 years and limited the data to just employees in the General Schedule (GS) pay plan. The ratio of high grade HR Professionals (GS Grades 09-13) to lower grade HR Professionals (GS Grades 03-08) has gone from 1.29:1 (at the end of FY 1998) to 2.3:1 (at the end of FY 2018). Over the same period, the lower graded headcount declined by just over 5,000 employees, while the higher grades gained nearly 4,300 employees which resulted in a total headcount decrease of only 729 HR Professionals. (Note: The number of HR Professionals in the GS-14 and GS-15 grades increased over 2,500 employees (from 1,886 to 4,445) during the same period. That is the subject for a different analysis).

It is clear the decline in HR assistant positions has outpaced the decline in HR Assistant work, but why? One contributing factor may be the way agencies conduct the hiring process for HR Professionals. In the MSPB Issues of Merit (May 2020), they identify that 86% of HR hires were already employed at the agency, and 40% of HR hires were previously HR Assistants. This is great for many reasons (retention, career pathing, etc), but it can also result in business process changes taking the path of least resistance. As new technology comes online, it is implemented to accommodate existing processes, not to improve the way business is conducted … simply paving the foot path. See our recent blog post The Relationship Between Technology and Process for more information on the importance of change management. Agencies should also invest the time necessary to develop training plans for their HR workforce to better identify and close skill gaps and develop robust workforce plans. We will address this in a future blog post.

The changes in HR Technology have also not benefited agency employees. For example, the current approach to employee self-service is fragmented and often unusable. This results in employees reaching out to HR for assistance on routine issues that further takes HR away from high value activities. A 21st century employee experience should include elements to make it easy for employees to find information (e.g. knowledge content), submit inquires across functions (e.g. IT help tickets and changes to beneficiaries), and track all ticket status all from a single employee service portal. The implementation of a modern employee experience will also open the door to gain further benefit from Robotic Process Automation (RPA), Machine Learning (ML), and Artificial Intelligence (AI) thus allowing HR Specialists to focus on higher value consulting activities.