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How TSA Wants to Attract a Skilled Workforce

New policies are incorporating more flexibility to recruit talented employees.

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COVID-19 was a game changer that forced many federal agencies to deploy more remote work environments. Since then, the Transportation Security Administration has strived to maintain its workforce as well as attract new employees by leveraging opportunities that center around flexibility.

In order to get back to attracting highly skilled employees, leaders have to have that degree of flexibility and trust with the workforce, said Charlene McCollum, director of TSA’s human resources office in services delivery.

“Just that one ask and that degree of honesty and the organization can make adjustments. The employee felt devalued and there was a different level of dedication and energy from that employee,” McCollum said. “So, we have to be flexible and understanding as situations happen.”

McCollum said old policies can adapt to new situations, but in order to make it all work staff needs to feel empowered.

McCollum believes it’s important to start with everyone knowing what the baseline is so that staff will know how to bend outside the stoic rules, but stay true to that policy.

“We have found where we need to adjust our policies because sometimes we have restricted ourselves from embarking on some flexibilities that we could have because we’ve written our policies so absolute, thou shalt not do,” McCollum said. “We have to know when it’s time to say this doesn’t make sense anymore and mostly to hear from our staff. Those on the front lines doing the work, they are the ones most critical to the process and the need for change because they can say this doesn’t work.”

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has launched the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Framework to help address the challenges of attracting more job candidates to the cybersecurity field.

Karen Wetzel, manager of the NICE Framework at NIST, said the NICE framework establishes that common language so that we can share information about cybersecurity work and we can do that from one agency to another.

“It’s helping to provide information about what the workforce needs to know to help the people as they’re moving into these roles, what that work is going to be and how they should be prepared for that,” Wetzel said.

Agencies are utilizing NICE as the first step in moving forward with bringing more people into these positions. However, Wetzel said many of the cybersecurity postings require certifications that most people don’t have.

“Putting limits is not good for us. What can be required of that person on day one and what can be taught on the job. We need to start thinking about things differently,” Wetzel said. “Instead of relying on degrees and certifications we should look at competency areas or add to existing work roles so there is common ground for learning at lower and higher levels.”

TSA is embarking on a journey where it’s looking at workforce and succession planning as well as competencies.

“What competencies do we need now and which competencies do we need in the near future and how do we recruit for that?” McCollum said. “How do we go and seek a workforce that is attractive and who will take on these jobs that aren’t necessarily telework?”

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