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Rebalancing the Aging Workforce - Policy - 2009


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A workforce policy that was put into place at NASA in 2009 with a goal of "50% Fresh Outs" as new hires to rebalance the aging workforce. A "fresh out" is defined as being within 3 years of college …

A workforce policy that was put into place at NASA in 2009 with a goal of "50% Fresh Outs" as new hires to rebalance the aging workforce. A "fresh out" is defined as being within 3 years of college graduation. In practice, it was more like 100%, as the managers and supervisors were rewarded for onboarding "fresh outs" but not for other ages.

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  • 1. Nick 23 Rebalancing NASA’s Workforce NASA has taken action to rebalance the aging workforce and adopted a policy and goal that 50% of all new civil servant hires will be fresh-out hires. About a year ago, representatives from the next generation community attended the NASA Strategic Management Council (SMC) at Stennis Space Center to stimulate a discussion on strategic workforce issues. The discussion focused on long-term effects of current hiring practices and the upcoming gap in US human space flight on the NASA mission and specific actions that the SMC and next generation community could each take. Over the past year, numerous discussions and associated activities have taken place throughout the agency, many of which we have discussed here on openNASA. All of this hard work, by so many throughout NASA, culminated two weeks ago on March 19th at the most recent SMC. I’m really excited to share the following email I received with the openNASA community which documents the results of the March SMC meeting. Thank you to everyone who has been involved and for everyone who shares this vision for NASA. – I’d like to share with you some very important workforce policy news. Two weeks ago on March 19, the Agency’s Strategic Management Council (SMC) decided to take action to rebalance our aging workforce. It is now agency policy that we have a goal of 50% of all new civil servant hires will be fresh-out hires. I list the main action here, then the remaining actions below. Action #1: Increase the number of fresh outs, such as adding requirement to performance standards and cluster hiring of co-ops prior to last semester — incorporate the following words, and a specific goal of 50% hiring of fresh outs into SES and supervisory performance plans as soon as possible: – Ensure support for short and long-term programmatic and institutional needs by providing a workforce that is balanced appropriately by skills, level of experience, and demographics. – Ensure that this is flowed down to directorates, divisions, and programs/projects. Measure performance against this goal. BACKGROUND: As you may recall, the SMC has raised next generation workforce issues to be an agency-level risk item. It was first acknowledged in April 2008 with a discussion of the long-term strategic risk that is posed by not having many people in the aerospace business under age 38. There were actions out of that SMC for centers to hold ―cross-generational discussions‖ to generate ideas to tackle this issue. A group of young civil servants took the feedback from these discussions last summer and reported 7 theme areas back to the December 2008 SMC. Further actions came out of that SMC for NASA’s Office of Human Capital Management to prepare implementation plans for the 7 theme areas and those plans are what were approved (and expanded upon) at the March 2009 SMC. – The March 2009 SMC charts are attached so you can see what was proposed. – The December 2008 SMC charts and the cross-generational report are the lead news story here:
  • 2. – The April 2008 SMC charts that triggered this whole discussion are here: IMPLICATIONS: The SMC has decided that the risk of a shortfall in critical skills is so great, that dramatic action was needed to change these trends. Today, we do very little civil servant hiring. Not many people leave NASA in any given year, so not many spots open up to hire someone. However, the average age of NASA is now 47 and yet the average age of our few new hires is just shy of 40. Only 19% of recent hires have been in their 20’s. It’s been no wonder that the space business continues to age rapidly. If we get close to the 50% fresh-out hiring goal this year, that’ll probably mean more than doubling the number of new people in their 20’s and early 30’s that we hire. ―Fresh-out‖ is now being defined as someone who is within 3 years of their ―terminal degree.‖ They can be 23 or 43, but they must be about to or have just finished a degree. Further, if an experiment run at MSFC this past year is any indication, applying this policy NASA-wide means the agency’s average age could actually begin to turn around and start to come back down. For those of you who like to be able to see things with your own eyes, you can check out the hiring information posted to the NASA WICN system to see this policy begin to take effect: – OTHER ACTIONS: The SMC also heard the themes brought forward about making sure better development opportunities are available to those already in the civil service. They have issued a number of other actions: – Explore the possibility of hiring co-op students at HQ. – Advertise NASA leadership development, at all levels, to promote leadership training and identify high-potential candidates. – Ensure Agency-wide consistency and quality of mentoring programs. – Implement new employee rotation programs. – Expand, and broadly advertise, communication technologies – Institute a business resource management model that provides employees time for innovation. – Motivate employees, e.g. set aside launch tickets for employees, at all levels, at each center. Please feel free to disseminate this information to other NASA colleagues who might be interested. 23 Responses to “Rebalancing NASA’s Workforce” 1. William Pomerantz on April 2nd, 2009 One word: WOW! 2. David DeBoth on April 2nd, 2009 As an undergraduate currently pursuing majors related to the space industry, I have to say this is incredible news! This is a great thing for the industry in the long term, as well as for students currently pursuing educations in Physics/ Space Science/ Aerospace Engineering related fields. Wow!
  • 3. 3. Brian Shiro on April 2nd, 2009 This is great! Maybe I can finally get a NASA job. I‘m tired of the requirements always being PhD+postdoc+many years of experience. Maybe one finally doesn‘t have to walk on water to get a NASA job. 4. Michael Frostad on April 2nd, 2009 Wow indeed! 5. Matthew F. Reyes on April 3rd, 2009 You know every time I see topics like this come up, I kinda want to yank my hair out. I‘ve publicly called into question data presented on fancy Powerpoint presentations that are claimed to show age-discriminatory bias in NASA‘s hiring practices. I believe that the conclusions presented in the past and in this blog post are flawed. I propose that the data does not reflect discriminatory hiring practices, but that the problems is that there are fewer younger people available to hire. With that in mind, I invite everybody to read what Northrop Grumman spent MILLIONS of dollars doing to improve their problems with the workforce: and reconcile the following statement: Across the country, there is a growing concern regarding the number of students entering science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. We know that one way to reverse that trend is to make science and math fascinating and applicable for the students. with the notion that NASA is purposefully NOT hiring young people. 6. rquintanilla on April 3rd, 2009 This is a good direction for NASA. The vetting process will need to be really good. If NASA has an extremely old workforce, then NASA does not fully understand the challenge of training a young workforce — learning the challenges will give NASA character. In the SMC, did NASA consider how it interacts with contractors? Any complete strategy will consider the interaction between NASA and its contractors, because the majority of the work is done by contractors. In these days collaboration is not just a cross-generation issue, but a cross-organization issue as well. (If this sounds condescending I apologize, I just think that this is as important if not more important than the aging work-force at NASA and I hope that it is considered.) I don‘t think that NASA provides the proper financial incentives and contractual structure necessary for contractors to collaborate with NASA to both create new innovative products and to find ways to drastically reduce costs (innovative cost reduction costs money, and a business is there to make money — so if it is not in the budget it doesn‘t get done — that is bad for NASA). Anyway, I recently found out about this new technology grassroots movement called Hackerspace. Hackerspaces are community-operated physical places, where people can meet and work on their projects.
  • 4. I was thinking that this concept could be utilized by NASA and its contractors for generating grass-root technology projects. The idea (in my mind, right now) should be to provide minimal resources so that groups can work on projects and get hands-on experience (the key to minimal resources is to teach the individuals to be resourceful, minimal resources are related to the project itself — core/community resources are essential). If the project takes off and has a strong following — THEN — the project gets real funding. I will blog more about this later, I am still gathering information. 7. Garth Henning on April 3rd, 2009 Matt, I think you misconstrue this as a discrimination issue. It is not. It is a critical skills issue leading directly to a mission risk issue. If you like, there are also a whole stack of external reports discussing the link between demographics and mission risk, in particular the CAIB report and recent National Academies reports. The question is whether NASA and the space industry will have the correct skill set at the correct experience levels to accomplish its missions in each year in the future. The trend lines of the past 5-15 years indicate that a rapid shortfall in critical skills will occur in the 2020 timeframe and that risk must be mitigated. With low attrition rates, hiring policies can only slowly affect the pool of critical skills. 2020 is only 11 years away, a decent amount of time for people to begin getting real hands-on experience to mitigate the risk. There is no shortage of people applying for NASA civil service jobs, and average salary levels indicate that in most localities around the country no shortage is driving entry-level wage rates higher right now. Also, NSF is reporting a surge in aerospace engineering university enrollment since 2001-3. Now, there are indeed dramatically fewer young people in the NASA civil service and in the aerospace business as can be seen from NASA data, BLS data, and Census data. However, NASA civil service hiring issues are dealing with numbers in the hundreds of people, and even the lower percentage of young people in the space business is still many many thousands overall. 8. Patricia Pahlavani on April 3rd, 2009 Yes, the word got out here at LaRC‘ s recent all hands meeting w/center director Lisa Roe. The full workforce strategy includes hiring practices that further expand the blended workforce concept. More contractors will be hired to back fill jobs vacated by civil servants. There will be more term appointments of civil servants positions rather than as full time permanent. Of course there is also legislation working its way thru Congress to allow civil servants to go from full time to part time positions w/out negative impacts that currently exits. All of you may already know of Fed Weekly which regularly gives updates to workforce changes but I will list it here for your convenience. Happy Friday all, Patricia. Federal Manager‘s Daily Report [] 9. Justin on April 3rd, 2009 I‘m curious as to how this 50% goal will ―[e]nsure support for short and long-term programmatic and institutional needs by providing a workforce that is balanced appropriately by skills, level of experience, and demographics.‖
  • 5. 10. Christina Gosling on April 3rd, 2009 I think this is a step in the wrong direciton. I agree with Garth Henning‘s comments, that the real issue is a drain of knowledge when people retire. Forcing NASA to replace senior staff with inexperienced people will only make the situation worse. NASA should be able to hire people with 15 to 20 years of experience from contractors, universities and other indistry to supplement what it will be missing. The secondary problem is what Mett Reyes brings up, that we need more undergraduates in the united states pursuing Math and Science to prevent more knowledge gaps in the future. This policy does nothing to address this issue either. 11. Michael Frostad on April 4th, 2009 The Trend lines I‘ve seen indicate a ‗Wave‘ of aerospace engineers(NASA, DOD, Contractor) at a certain age, I see this as a step to mitigate that wave crashing (ie retiring). If you are hiring both experienced and unexperienced at the same time (50-50) then you are blending your abilities which over the long term should hopefully provide an equilibrium of abilities and a smooth transfer of knowledge, you also have no crises of a crash to try and mitigate which distracts us from our main task…whether 50-50 is the ‗right‘ ratio or not over 50 years I don‘t know but it‘s always adjustable. 12. msengupta on April 5th, 2009 Maybe I‘m reading this entirely wrong, but no where in the post was it stated that these fresh-outs were going to get leadership positions within the agency right away. This is clearly a method of ensuring that the agency has a qualified, knowledgeable workforce in the future, when its current leaders are no longer working. I have yet to see any mention of forcing experienced folks out, and I‘m not quite sure how asking centers to meet a goal of hiring a certain percentage of qualified fresh-outs is counter-productive to the agency‘s well-being. 13. Becca on April 9th, 2009 On one hand, I‘m wowed by this idea. On the other hand, I‘m disturbed. I don‘t think that new vs. experienced vs. somewhere in between makes NASA a better or worse agency. Any good company plans a skills mixed, where there are enough newer people being mentored by more experienced people being guided by even wiser older ones. I don‘t see the problem as agency-wide rather than individual organizations. You see new hires grouped in certain orgs and experienced people in others. My first group at NASA was entirely new hires — it was like the blind leading the blind. Now I‘m in a group where almost every one has 20 years of experience, and its very stagnant and set in its ways – its very hard for a new hire to break into this group because of a number of barriers (even harder for a contractor than a civil servant). You can even see this problem across NASA centers. As a student I worked at LaRC, there were LOTS of other students. But there was almost no full time hiring, so all the real employees were quite old. There were no mid-level people. Whereas in MOD where I work now, I was really drawn to the job because it seemed like it had a lot more young people than a lot of the rest of NASA..
  • 6. The problem is on both ends. Some groups don‘t encourage people to move up, across, and out, so they get an entrenched group of old-timers in the org. Other groups aren‘t great places to work so they have high turnovers, leading to ―passing through‖ youngsters. And then there are groups in between, that are mobile, people come, they contribute, they move on to other things, I think that‘s ideal. These agency wide hiring goals that smack of age discrimination, and I don‘t think that‘s intentional… I‘d rather see goals of rebalancing individual technical groups and organizations. I am planning a long term career at NASA, and I‘d like to see it be an organization that‘s great for the young person I am now – but also I‘d like it to be a great place to be when I‘m a senior engineer or manager in 20 years from now. 14. Patricia Pahlavani on April 10th, 2009 Hi. Just trying to get the word out that a Resident Engineer announcement (1 year with the NASA Engineering Safety Center) was just posted on the USA JOBS. The web site above will take you to the vacancy announcement. This is a chance for young engineers to work real NASA problems working w/senior discipline experts both at NASA and the private sector. Thanks, Patricia. 15. cudmaster on April 24th, 2009 I‘d love to work on space/science type things. I‘d hate to work for nasa, I‘d bet the young people in this area are looking for gigs at places like spacex. why? the bureaucracy. Waiting over a year to be provided the tools/access/approval to do a job that could have been done in 5 minutes, is something MOST people under 40 could not tolerate. 16. D on May 1st, 2009 All new hires are almost certainly going to be term hires which may dampen some desire to take the jobs. Perhaps not. 17. mk on May 2nd, 2009 Specifying that jobs should be reserved for fresh-outs is Age Discrimination, regardless of how it is hyped. — Why not attempt a ‗first-come — first served‘ approach to hiring qualified individuals who have submitted their applications to the NASA Human Resources Offices? Then, a 20 year limit to NASA employment — Better archived computer records and documentation to insure continuity in workforce knowledge. Less discussion about the workforce demographics and more effort directed to space related problems. 18.
  • 7. longtime@nasa on May 3rd, 2009 As a long time NASA employee I can account many stories of frustrations of NOT being allowed to hire fresh-outs (FO‘s they are called) because the current catch phrase of the day was ―workforce reduction‖. I‘ve seen many a good candidate come looking for a CS position, only to be hired as a contractor because there was a CS hiring freeze, or we don‘t have enough ―hiring points‖. Now those good candidates who have been working as contractors for more than 3 years no longer qualify as FO‘s and so will be supplanted by someone with no experience, someone who gets the job they wanted in the first place. Come-on SMC! Make up your minds. Who is better qualified. A contractor who has been working in the job for more than 3 years, or an untried, unproven FO? 19. dan on May 3rd, 2009 People in the SMC may benefit by reflecting upon what it means to ―pay your dues.‖ There is an emphasis on putting in one‘s time vs. rapidly gaining experience by being on the frontline. I saw this first hand as a part of a multi-center project. There were a few very talented young people matrixed out and at the helm. they worked hard and did great things for the Agency. Sadly, I saw many of them return to their home Branches/Centers to positions that were lower than or at par with what they were doing when they were freshouts. Why? Because they had not ―done their time‖ or ―paid their dues.‖ There was an assumption by the Old Guard that these talented, hungry young people were not ready to lead…they were ―too young.‖ Why wait? Let the young and ready assume more responsibility, lest they become young and restless and leave. 20. Rolando Quintanilla on May 5th, 2009 good point dan… I believe in ―paying your dues‖, but I agree people usually confuse ―paying your dues‖ with ―[doing] their time‖ which isn‘t always synonymous. Some people have worked for 20years and have only paid one year of dues because they have been doing the same thing since they started here. (This is only a slight exaggeration.) I know talent when I see it. I imagine that good leaders must have the capacity to spot talented individuals by watching them work. Yet our leaders assume youth as an indicator that ―dues‖ have not been payed. I have also seen putting people in the wrong position in comparison to their talents. For example, putting someone who is really good at A,B,and C in charge of A,B,C, D and E. When they are terrible at D and E. OR Putting someone in charge of X and W when they are really bad at it. Then not letting them do Y and Z, which they are/would be good at. I guess, being able to appreciate what an individual is good at and what they are bad at is an essential leadership trait. Let them be in charge of what they are good at and help them develop what they are bad at. My two cents. 21. Jason Rhian on January 16th, 2010
  • 8. It would have been great if it was adequately enacted and employed… I've had some experience with this and it is basically lip service. I am what could be consider a "fresh-hire" with two Bachelor's degrees numerous volunteer and internship efforts at KSC that simply cannot punch through the entrenched and in some cases discriminatory hiring practices there,,,