The federal government may keep some matters confidential, but one well-known fact is that workforce hiring needs are dependent on more millennials becoming involved in public service. According to federal workforce data from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in 2018, 14% of the federal workforce is over 60, while 7.8% is under 30 (out of a population of over 2 million). The phrase “out with the old and in with the new” doesn’t exactly apply to the federal workforce, which gradually grows older with each passing year. 

Experts say this is happening for a few reasons:

  • There aren’t enough young people in the wings to take over once older employees retire.
  • Young people’s skills aren’t yet up to par to contend with senior staff members for jobs. 
  • Older workers are able and willing to work longer into old age (with some doing this because they have to make ends meet). 
  • More experienced candidates or older military veterans get the open jobs more often, even at the entry-level threshold.
  • Government contractors are more efficient at recruiting and retaining younger workers than the government is. 

In 2012, OPM, the central human resources department of the executive branch, began to recruit and hire students and recent graduates to bring in new talent. They redesigned one program and added two more to help agencies provide clear ‘pathways’ to internships and full-time employment, to include useful training, career-development and mentoring opportunities. 

The Pathways Programs consist of the Internship Program, Recent Graduates Program and Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program. 

The Internship Program features paid opportunities for students to work in federal agencies and explore career paths related to their academic field of study or career interests. Students can become eligible for noncompetitive conversion to a permanent position in government.  Note: Students can’t stay in the Internship Program once they’ve completed their educational requirements. 

The Recent Graduates Program is a one-year developmental program for individuals who have received a degree or certificate from a qualifying educational institution within the previous two years. Students may apply up to nine months prior to completing their academic requirements, pending agency-specific policies. Agencies may establish a Recent Graduates Program that lasts longer than one year for positions that require more extensive structured training schedules. An agency must identify in its Pathways Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the duration of its Program, including the criteria used to determine the need for a Program that lasts longer than one year. Participants in the Program receive training and professional development, complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP), and are assigned a mentor. 

The Presidential Management Fellows (PMF) Program is a two-year leadership development program for advanced degree holders who have great academic records, management and leadership skills, and a vested interest in and commitment to public service. The program is for individuals who are in their final year of graduate school and who are scheduled to complete their academic requirements by August 31 of the academic year in which the competition is held, as well as individuals who have received an advanced degree from a qualifying educational institution within the previous two years. Participants in this program go through a thorough assessment process sponsored by OPM and may be placed in higher entry-level positions. 

How to Apply

Federal job announcements for hiring opportunities are required to be posted on USAJOBS, the Federal Government’s official website for Federal jobs (to include Pathways positions) and employment information.  

Participants in the Pathways program complete a required written agreement with the agency they’ll be working for that identifies expectations, including a description of duties, evaluation procedures, work schedules, and minimum eligibility requirements for conversion to a term or permanent position in the competitive service. 

Program Length

Agencies may appoint an Intern for an initial period expected to last more than one year. An Internship appointment is not required to have an end date. However, agencies are required to specify an end date for the Internship appointment in the Participant Agreement. The end date is generally the Intern’s projected graduation date, plus 120 days. The 120-day period cannot be used to finish any remaining academic and/or Program requirements. Agencies may grant credit for up to half of the 640-hour minimum service requirement, or 320 hours, to students who participated in certain volunteer or third-party internship programs once they apply and are accepted into the Internship Program. For students with good grades, the 320 hour time requirement can be met by just one summer as a full-time intern.

Agencies may appoint an Intern for an initial period expected to last less than one year. Typically referred to as Interns NTE (Not To Exceed), these individuals complete work that is short-term or project-based. As long as the Interns NTE continue to meet eligibility requirements, agencies may extend these positions.

Orientation

Participants in the PMF Program are required to participate in an orientation while participants in the Internship and Recent Graduates Programs are not required to. During orientation, participants learn about the benefits associated with their appointments and complete various forms. There is also an opportunity for participants to become familiar with key agency points of contact for questions and concerns. 

Individual Development Plans

Recent Graduates and PMF Fellows are required to complete an Individual Development Plan (IDP) within 45 days of their appointments. Interns are not required to complete IDPs but OPM recommends that Interns appointed for longer than 90 days be placed on one. The IDP is a strategic roadmap developed by the supervisor and Pathways participant and is used to keep track of career planning, professional development, and training activities. It should make note of a participant’s target position, learning objectives and developmental requirements. 

Mentors

Agencies assign mentors to participants in the Recent Graduates and PMF Programs within 90 days of their appointments. Mentors for Recent Graduates should be current agency employees and outside of the participants’ chain of command. Mentors for PMF Fellows are current managerial employees inside of the participants’ agencies, but also outside of their chain of command. Mentors should serve as coaches and trusted colleagues, not as supervisors. 

Types of Assigned Work

Interns should be assigned meaningful work that supports agencies’ needs and Interns’ academic fields of study or career interests. They should not be assigned, as their primary duties, simple administrative or clerical tasks. Interns NTE should be assigned to help complete temporary projects or perform labor-intensive tasks not requiring subject-matter expertise or fill summer jobs. Like any internship you do, there are no guarantees that the work assigned will be challenging, fulfilling, or applicable to your career, but the guidelines are in writing and agencies are directed by OPM to adhere to them.

Breaks in Program

A break in program is defined as a period of time in which an Intern or Intern NTE is working, but unable to attend classes, or is neither attending classes nor working. While breaks in program are not common, they are permissible in some cases.

Tips for Converting a Pathways Internship Into a Full-Time Job

  • Internship Program participants who meet all program requirements may be noncompetitively converted to a full-time position at any agency, not just the agency at which they completed their internship. Participants in the Recent Graduates Program do not have the same conversion eligibility. These individuals must be converted within the agency to which they were initially appointed. 
  • Hiring managers are permitted and encouraged to actively recruit for their open positions. Reach out to them strategically to get your name out there and be proactive. 
  • In most agencies, HR can share certificates of qualified applicants with other managers in their agency when filling similar jobs. Ensure HR adds a check-box that you can check to authorize the sharing of your applications for other similar positions within the agency.
  • The process of hiring recent graduates: Agencies may limit their job recruitment for certain kinds of positions like cybersecurity or IT administration to recent graduates so grads don’t need to compete with older employees.
  • Pathways internships don’t confine you to one specific job or department; rather, you will be applying your basic skills to many different areas. Highlight your diverse experiences and ability to learn and adapt to new challenges.

Things to be aware of

  • Employees hired under the Pathways Programs are eligible for promotion, except for Interns on appointments expected to last less than 1 year, and employees on an appointment for 90 days or more are eligible to earn annual and sick leave. However, those hired on an intermittent schedule are not eligible.  
  • Students may apply up to nine months prior to completing their academic requirements, pending agency-specific policies. 
  • Health and life insurance coverage for Federal employees depends on the type of appointment an employee has and the expectation of substantial employment during the year. 
  • Students hired under the Internship Program are generally ineligible for retirement coverage. Recent Graduates and PMFs are eligible for retirement benefits if their appointment is for more than one year. 
  • The U.S. Department of State Student Internship is not part of the Pathways Program. Unpaid internships in the U.S. Department of State Student Internship program cannot be non-competitively converted to Pathways Internship appointments or non-competitively converted to career positions in the U.S. Department of State’s Foreign or Civil Services.

How effective are the Pathways programs?

OPM did a study of the Pathways Programs in FY15 to analyze how agencies use them, highlight notable practices, identify challenges and compliance concerns, and develop recommendations for improvement in the effective use of the Pathways Programs. Overall, OPM found Agencies have been transparent in providing public notice and in engaging in recruiting practices. The demographic data on gender, race and national origin, and age indicate agencies’ recruitment efforts are providing access to diverse applicant groups. 93 percent of Pathways Programs participants surveyed said they plan to remain at their current agency or continue to work in the Federal Government in the immediate future.

Anthony Marucci, Director of Communications at OPM, told ABPA in an email that “information submitted by Federal agencies as part of annual reporting on the Pathways Programs confirms that recruitment marketing, advertising and outreach efforts continue to be focused on driving diverse prospects to applying for Pathways positions.”

According to a review by the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, working with the Volcker Alliance and Robertson Foundation for Government, the Pathways program lacks quality training, there is confusion regarding eligibility, and the application review system leaves a lot to be desired. Two years after Pathways was relaunched, only a small number of interns have been hired. Some federal officials complain that the program undermines traditional hiring practices.

“OPM has and will continue to educate hiring managers, human resources (HR) professionals, Pathways Programs Officers, and other relevant stakeholders, on details of the Pathways Programs in order to raise awareness of and applications for the programs,” Marucci said. 

“Initiatives include the ongoing delivery of a ‘Pathways Professional Development Series’ of modules on various aspects of Pathways (e.g., staffing, onboarding, recruitment, hiring official/HR collaboration, and related topics); regularly scheduled meetings with Federal agency PathwaysPrograms Officers (PPOs) to discuss agency concerns and the latest developments with regard to Pathways; and standalone briefings upon agency request to educate hiring officials to counsel students and recent graduates on how to find and apply for the Pathways Programs.”

The government has some bureaucratic features that can deter people from applying, and the hiring process still needs work, but the reward may be worth it. Government jobs have stability, growth potential, professional resources, and benefits. Participants also get an insider’s view of how the federal government operates, and many doors to potential opportunities will open up in the future. 

But ultimately, how valuable is it to have a Pathways Internship on your resume?

“Ideally, by the very nature of the program’s design, a successful Pathways Intern (i.e., one who has met all academic and program requirements) is eligible to be non-competitively converted to a permanent position in the competitive civil service,” Marucci said. 

“The value, in that case, would be attainment of a permanent civil service position immediately upon completion of the program.”

Sources

Archuleta, K. (2014, November 18). Shining a Light on Pathways – The OPM Director’s Blog. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/blogs/Director/2014/11/18/Shining-a-Light-on-Pathways/.

Buble, Courtney. Government Executive. (2019, August 30). The Aging Federal Workforce Needs ‘New Blood,’ Experts Say. Retrieved from https://www.govexec.com/workforce/2019/08/aging-federal-workforce-needs-new-blood-experts-say/159585/

Cobert, Beth. (2016, August 24). Pathways Helps Meet Federal Workforce Goals – The OPM Director’s Blog. Retrieved froM https://www.opm.gov/blogs/Director/2016/8/24/Pathways-Helps-Meet-Federal-Workforce-Goals/.

Katz, Eric. Government Executive. (2016, August 23). Specially Hired Interns and Recent Grads Are Staying in Government. Retrieved from https://www.govexec.com/management/2016/08/specially-hired-federal-interns-and-recent-grads-are-staying-government/130986/

Kelman, S. (2014, November 4). Are internships the secret weapon for hiring young talent into government? Retrieved from https://fcw.com/blogs/lectern/2014/11/kelman-pathways.aspx?admgarea=thelectern.

Ledford, E. (2016, August 25). For Getting a Federal Job, Pathways Program Proves Successful. Retrieved from https://news.clearancejobs.com/2016/08/25/pathway-success-federal-employment/amp/.

Miller, Jason. Federal News Network. Agencies giving Pathways Programs better reviews. (2016, August 23). Retrieved from https://federalnewsnetwork.com/workforce/2016/08/agencies-giving-pathways-programs-better-reviews-4-years/.

Mythbusters. Hiring Excellence. OPM. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/hiring-excellence/tools-resources/hiring-excellence-mythbusters.pdf

News Release: Pathways Programs Successfully Recruit and Retain Students and Recent Grads into Federal Service. OPM Office of Communications (2016, August 23). https://www.opm.gov/news/releases/2016/08/pathways-programs-successfully-recruit-and-retain-students-and-recent-college-grads-into-federal-service/

Pathways Program Fact Sheets. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates/#url=Program-Fact-Sheets.

Pathways Program FAQs. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates/?page=1#url=Pathways-FAQs

Pathways Program Handbook. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates/reference-materials/pathways-programs-handbook.pdf

Pathways Toolkit for Hiring Managers and Supervisors: A Guide to Hiring Students and Recent Graduates. Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates/reference-materials/pathways-toolkit-for-hiring-managers-and-supervisors.pdf

Rein, Lisa. The Washington Post. Millennials exit the federal workforce as government jobs lose their allure. (2014, December 15). Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/millennials-exit-the-federal-workforce-as-government-jobs-lose-their-allure/2014/12/15/ea3d4418-7fd4-11e4-9f38-95a187e4c1f7_story.html.

Scherber, Lindsay M. “Are Internships the New ‘Pathway’ Into the Federal Government?” Are Internships the New ‘Pathway’ Into the Federal Government?.Regulatory Studies Center, The George Washington University, 17 Nov. 2014, regulatorystudies.columbian.gwu.edu/are-internships-new-pathway-federal-government.

Special Study: The Pathways Programs – Their Use and Effectiveness Two Years after Implementation. (2016, August). Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/students-recent-graduates/reference-materials/report-on-special-study-of-the-pathways-programs.pdf

U.S. Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Analytical Perspectives Fiscal Year 2020 (Washington: GPO, 2019), pp. 72-73; U.S. Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government, Historical Tables Fiscal Year 2020 (Washington, GPO, 2019), pp. 343-344; and U.S. Executive Office of the President, Office of Management and Budget, Budget of the United States Government Appendix Fiscal Year 2020 (Washington: GPO, 2019).

Women in the Federal Workforce: Infographic. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/diversity-and-inclusion/women-in-the-federal-workforce-infographics.pdf

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