Kimberly Holden is the Deputy Associate Director for Recruitment and Hiring at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). She leads and directs the Federal Government’s efforts to recruit and develop America’s “best and brightest” to meet the challenges of the 21st century government. Holden has spent 28 years in public service and brings rich experience in recruiting and hiring, as well as developing the talent pipeline, for STEM positions.
We recently spoke with Holden about her involvement with STEM, the demand for talent at all levels, and the need for the Federal Government to compete for talent to fulfill critical missions in an ever-changing climate.
WashingtonExec: What is your background and how did you get involved in STEM?
I have 28 years in public service, with 22 years in human resources. I was appointed to the Senior Executive Service (SES) in 2006. In 2012, I was selected as the Deputy Associate Director for Recruitment and Hiring at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). In this capacity, I lead and direct the Federal government’s efforts to recruit and develop America’s “best and brightest” to meet the challenges of the 21st century Government. An important talent pipeline is for STEM positions.
Prior to joining OPM, I worked for the Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While at FDA, I was responsible for successfully spearheading the FDA 2008/2009 Hiring Surge that resulted in the agency recruiting and hiring over 1,500 new staff to focus on the expanded food safety and medical product safety mission of FDA. I have extensive experience recruiting and hiring for STEM positions as well as designing and overseeing programs to attract top talent to FDA.
“We must build talent pipelines with hiring programs like Pathways for interns and recent graduates to ensure the Federal Government does not continue to be at a disadvantage in the competition for this talent.”
WashingtonExec: Please describe your day to day responsibilities.
I manage the overall design, development, and promotion of the merit-based employment tools, policies, and programs that Federal agencies use to recruit, examine and hire high quality employees from diverse backgrounds. My main focus at OPM is overseeing classification, assessment, and recruitment policy, as well as student programs including the Presidential Management Fellows Program. Since joining OPM, I have been involved in closing critical skills gaps in the Federal workforce to improve performance, especially mission-critical occupations, including STEM and Cybersecurity.
WashingtonExec: The U.S. is not turning out the engineering students that we need to in order to compete as an innovative country. Why is this issue so important?
We must build talent pipelines with hiring programs like Pathways for interns and recent graduates to ensure the Federal Government does not continue to be at a disadvantage in the competition for this talent. Federal agencies must be more effective in our efforts to educate and inspire students early in their developmental years so they can pursue careers in engineering. The President is urging us to think about new and creative ways to engage young people in science and engineering, whether it is science festivals, robotics competitions, or fairs that encourage young people to create, build and invent.
We also need to start exploring options for current and future STEM professionals so they have the ability to shift between organizations both inside and outside the Federal Government and use their technical talents to address a variety of challenges. The Federal Government must be able to compete for STEM talent, in this case engineers, by offering attractive, non-traditional work environments that foster innovation and productivity, career flexibility and mobility, and overall compensation.
WashingtonExec: What’s your view to get more parents involved in STEM?
The STEM gap is of great concern for women and minorities, especially African Americans and Hispanics. We need to provide more information to parents of underserved students from all segments of society, including minority groups who often, for financial or other reasons, do not have access to many resources and may not know enough about STEM careers.
We are currently developing materials for the general public – including parents, educators, and students – on the many career possibilities in science, technology, engineering, and math in the Federal Government. It is important that parents and students get this information early in their education – K-12. As part of the skill gaps initiative, we are partnering with other Federal agencies to increase awareness of internship programs and career opportunities with the Federal Government. ___________________________________________________________________________________________________
“The Federal Government must be able to compete for STEM talent, in this case engineers, by offering attractive, non-traditional work environments that foster innovation and productivity, career flexibility and mobility, and overall compensation.”
WashingtonExec: What’s the best STEM success case study/project that you have been personally involved in?
During my tenure with FDA, I had the opportunity to develop and implement recruiting strategies to help FDA position itself as an attractive employer for STEM professionals. This generation of STEM individuals are mobile, demanding creative and dynamic environments that offer excellent work/life balance and competitive compensation.
WashingtonExec: What’s the biggest misconception about STEM?
I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that top STEM-qualified individuals are not attracted to the missions of Federal agencies. Children in this country still want to be rocket scientists with NASA, cybersecurity analysts, and scientists. I think our main challenge is that they may not be considering Federal service as part of their career during their college years. Even these individuals, who are often initially attracted to the Federal missions and programs, often go for both equally attractive and exciting positions in the private sector or other private institutions due to a lack of competitive pay. The interest is there but we need to reimagine the Federal personnel systems for the 21st century.
WashingtonExec: What’s the future of STEM? How can other like-minded people get involved?
Individuals with STEM education and skills play a key role in helping the Federal Government fulfill its critical missions. They perform a wide range of scientific and technologically-rich missions on behalf of our nation every day. These include many efforts that are key to the most important challenges facing the nation, including revitalizing the nation’s economy; preserving our national security; protecting the global environment; and improving the quality of our nation’s health care systems. I think the demand for STEM talent at all levels will continue to increase and we need to ensure that agencies have the ability to fill these critical positions. STEM has been designated as a functional area that is included in OPM’s skills gap closure initiative, one of the Federal Government’s Cross Agency Priority Goals identified on performance.gov. OPM is partnering with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy as well as the Chief Human Capital Officers Council to develop a strategy to address STEM skills gaps. To involve other like-minded people, we are using OPM’s Innovation Laboratory to develop innovative ways to provide Federal agencies with the tools needed to attract, retain, and shape their current and future STEM workforce to meet mission needs.