Federal Contracting
January 23, 2024

Overcoming Talent Shortages in Federal Contracts: Passive Candidates, AI, and Candidate Management Systems

The federal government, just as the private sector, has not been immune from IT talent shortages brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Great Resignation — two hiring factors that continue to affect businesses today. And yes, that includes the business of federal agencies. Current economic conditions are challenging organizations to alter traditional recruitment models, particularly in the tech space where the talent shortages have intensified. Through federal contracts, the government seeks to leverage the expertise of industry to help improve and accelerate its own processes. Today, that’s more important than ever. The innovations of workforce solutions providers will play an instrumental role in government, we believe, in three interconnected areas: AI, passive candidate sourcing, and moving from applicant tracking systems (ATS) to candidate management systems (CMS). 

Talent Shortages Impacting Government, the Nation’s Biggest Employer

In a poll of global tech leaders conducted by MIT Technology Review Insights, 64% of respondents said IT candidates applying to technology jobs lacked the necessary skills or experience for the role. Another 56% cited an overall shortage of candidates as a concern. These issues aren’t exclusive to corporations and private sector businesses.

“It’s no secret that there is a universal staffing problem across the federal sector — critical positions remain unfilled, agencies are having a hard time attracting and retaining talent, as well as developing that talent, particularly for jobs in IT, cybersecurity, DevSecOps and other areas requiring a high degree of technical skill,” Joe Thiel explained in his article for Federal News Network. “To this end, 7 out of 10 government IT leaders view continuing IT skills gaps as having medium to high impact on their ability to deliver on their agencies’ missions.” 

There’s also a now noticeable pay gap between federal employees and their counterparts in the private sector. 

“The average pay for a U.S. private-sector employee increased by 38% between 2009 and 2020, but federal civilian pay only rose by 15%,” Thiel pointed out. “Last year, The Federal Salary Council released data that showed that federal employees earn about 24% less than their private-sector counterparts. So it should come as no surprise that the public sector is losing key talent to private companies.”

There Are Big but Seldom Mentioned Benefits for Workers on Federal Contracts

That said, government contracts offer several benefits to employees who choose to support them, which don’t often receive enough attention or fanfare. 

  • Flexible work: Government agencies often prioritize work-life balance for their contract employees. This may include flexible working hours, telecommuting options, and generous vacation and parental leave policies.
  • Good pay: Government contractors do earn good pay, and they may receive additional fringe benefits from positions covered by the Service Contract Act that are not routinely extended to corporate contingent workers.
  • Access to public sector resources: Government contractors may have access to public sector resources.
  • Long-term contracts and sustainability: Government contracts typically offer long-term contracts and sustainability, which offers contingent talent more stability, longevity, and security in their positions during the contract. 
  • Collaboration and networking opportunities: Government contracts may offer collaboration and networking opportunities.
  • Scalability and growth potential: Government contracts may offer scalability and growth potential.
  • Access to capital and financing: Government contracts may offer access to capital and financing.
  • Social impact and public service: Government contracts may offer social impact and public service

In the fast-paced world of talent acquisition, staying ahead of the competition requires embracing cutting-edge technologies and strategic candidate pools. Three innovations being used widely today by workforce solutions providers can make tremendous improvement to staffing federal contracts: AI, passive candidate sourcing, and new personnel management platforms. 

New Recruiting Technologies: Candidate Management Systems

Many mistakenly assume that applicant tracking systems (ATS) and candidate management systems (CMS) are interchangeable — or that a CMS is just a fancy new term the staffing industry introduced to sound modern and cool. While they share some functionalities, their roles diverge in several key ways. An ATS serves as a digital repository for applications, facilitating initial resume screening and basic communication. However, a CMS takes it a step further, transforming the recruitment journey into a seamless, dynamic experience. Integrating the two allows workforce solutions providers to offer federal agencies entirely new ways to find skilled and retain skilled candidates.

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

An ATS concentrates on process efficiency and compliance. 

Application Workflow Management

  • ATS focuses on managing the application workflow, from job posting to candidate selection. It organizes and tracks applicant data, streamlining the hiring process.
  • The automation of routine tasks is foundational to an ATS, which includes resume parsing and communication with candidates, improves efficiency.

Compliance and Reporting

  • ATS ensures compliance with regulatory requirements by tracking and documenting each stage of the hiring process. This is crucial for audits and reporting purposes.
  • Reporting functionalities provide insights into key recruitment metrics, aiding in data-driven decision-making.

Candidate Management System (CMS)

Where an ATS involves reactive processes, a CMS focuses on proactive approaches. A CMS takes ATS to the next level with its emphasis on candidate cultivation, relationship management, and talent community communications. 

Relationship Management

  • CMS builds and nurtures relationships with candidates. It goes beyond the application process to focus on candidate engagement, communication, and feedback.
  • Centralized candidate profiles enable recruiters to maintain a holistic view of candidate interactions, facilitating personalized engagement.

Talent Pool Management:

  • CMS allows recruiters to build and manage talent pools proactively. AI-driven algorithms can match candidates with future opportunities based on skills, preferences, and organizational needs.
  • Continuous communication through personalized content keeps candidates engaged, reducing time-to-fill for future positions.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is now a game-changer, streamlining and optimizing every stage of the talent acquisition process. For modern staffing companies, embracing AI is not just an option, it's a necessity. A robust CMS acts as the central hub for the talent pool. It goes beyond keyword matching to analyze applicants based on skills, experience, and cultural fit. Introducing AI-powered algorithms can then empower the system to curate personalized candidate journeys, with a variety of features.

  • Automated pre-screening and assessment tools: These efficiently weed out unsuitable candidates while identifying high-potential individuals, saving recruiters valuable time.
  • Dynamic candidate scorecards: AI analyzes data points beyond resumes, including online presence and social media activity, to create a holistic picture of each candidate's strengths and suitability.
  • Passive candidate sourcing: By proactively identifying and engaging skilled professionals not actively seeking new roles, you tap into a hidden talent pool, expanding your reach and attracting top talent.
  • Personalized engagement tools: Chatbots answer candidate queries 24/7, while automated scheduling software simplifies interview set-up, improving the overall candidate experience.
  • Diversity and inclusion (DEIB) initiatives: AI can help eliminate unconscious bias by focusing solely on objective skills and qualifications, leading to a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

AI-Driven Chatbots

  • Implementing AI-driven chatbots in the recruitment process enhances candidate experience by providing real-time responses to queries.
  • Chatbots can pre-screen candidates, gather basic information, and schedule interviews, saving valuable time for recruiters.

Video Interviewing with AI Analysis

  • Leveraging AI in video interviews enables the analysis of non-verbal cues, facial expressions, and language patterns. This provides deeper insights into candidate personalities and suitability for the role.
  • Automated video interview scheduling and analysis tools streamline the screening process.

Continuous Learning Algorithms

  • Recruiters should prioritize AI solutions that incorporate continuous learning algorithms. These algorithms evolve based on feedback and outcomes, ensuring adaptability to changing recruitment trends.
  • Regular updates and training for AI tools are essential to maximize their effectiveness in staying ahead of the evolving talent landscape.

Best Practices for AI-Powered Recruitment

Embracing AI is an exciting step, but it requires careful implementation. Workforce solutions providers utilizing AI should or already have developed the following practices and safeguards.

  • Align AI with your strategy: Define recruitment goals and choose AI tools that complement existing processes and company culture.
  • Data quality is key: Ensure the CMS is fed with accurate and complete data to avoid biased algorithms and inaccurate candidate assessments.
  • Human oversight remains crucial: AI should augment, not replace, human recruiters. Maintain human control over key decisions and build trust with both candidates and hiring managers.
  • Transparency and communication: Be transparent about using AI in the recruitment process and clearly communicate its role to candidates. Explain how their data is used and ensure compliance with data privacy regulations.

AI Fosters Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) without Ideological Barriers

Since DEI programs have come under fire across both the public and private sectors, it’s important to remove politics from the nature of these initiatives. As several high-ranking politicians and military leaders have attested to the positive outcomes from DEI, including Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule who testified before Congress about the matter on January 11.

Seidule told the panel that “the U.S. military is more effective today because of social change precipitated by Congress over several decades as gender barriers fell and legally protected classes expanded,” as reported by Ashley Murray for Michigan Advance.

“Over the next twenty years, DoD instituted and internalized a culture of diversity that transformed the military and brought victory in the first Gulf War. The military has been working on diversity for a long time because it works,” Seidule said.

When asked about quotas, the core issue behind a lot of the political disagreements surrounding DEI, Seidule and others noted that none exist or ever have existed — because the tenets of DEI are not about displacing groups or supplanting them with others; DEI, as it indicates, is merely about ensuring inclusion and equity for all participants. AI has the power to make universally inclusive hiring a reality, without invoking political ideologies or biases.

One of the biggest concerns regarding AI in recruitment is potential bias. However, when implemented responsibly, AI can actually mitigate bias and foster a more inclusive hiring process.

  • Unbiased resume analysis: AI focuses on skills and qualifications, eliminating potential bias based on names, locations, or educational institutions.
  • Standardized assessments: AI-powered assessments ensure a fair and objective evaluation of skills and knowledge, removing room for individual biases.
  • Structured interview processes: AI helps define consistent interview rubrics and prompts, minimizing the chance of subjective judgment influencing hiring decisions.

Unbiased Candidate Screening

  • AI algorithms mitigate human bias in candidate screening by focusing on objective criteria. This contributes to a fair and equitable hiring process, fostering diversity.
  • Continuous learning models adjust algorithms based on outcomes, ensuring ongoing improvement in reducing biases.

Diverse Candidate Sourcing

  • AI tools are instrumental in expanding outreach to diverse candidate pools. They can identify candidates based on skills, experiences, and potential, promoting inclusivity in hiring practices.
  • Text analysis tools help eliminate biased language in job descriptions, ensuring that the language used appeals to a broad range of candidates.

By eliminating implicit biases and focusing on meritocracy, AI empowers staffing companies to build diverse and inclusive workforces, reflecting the communities they serve.

The Power of Passive Candidate Sourcing

According to studies, 70% of the most qualified and skilled workers are considered passive candidates — gainfully employed individuals who are not actively engaged in job searches. However, as LinkedIn data has consistently suggested for years, close to 40% of these workers are open to entertaining new offers.

Traditionally, recruitment focused on attracting active job seekers. Yet passive candidates are often top performers within their current companies, representing a rich pool of untapped talent. Proactively reaching out to passive candidates broadens a recruiter’s reach and allows them to attract individuals who wouldn’t typically apply to open positions.

  • Addressing the skills gap: The current skills gap across various industries makes it harder to find qualified candidates through traditional channels. By proactively engaging with passive talent, you tap into individuals with niche expertise and specialized skill sets, filling critical gaps in your workforce.
  • Building employer brand: Reaching out to top performers, even if they’re not actively seeking new opportunities, demonstrates a proactive approach to talent acquisition. This strengthens an employer’s brand, attracting skilled professionals who appreciate your recognition of their potential. For federal contracts, it allows workforce solutions providers to tout the benefits of supporting the government, which regularly go unspoken. 

Because relationship nurturing and advanced sourcing techniques are pivotal to engaging passive candidates, AI and CMS can unite to streamline the process.

  • Social media mining: AI tools scan vast social media networks for individuals showcasing relevant skills and expertise, identifying potential recruits before they even consider a move.
  • Professional network mapping: By analyzing professional connections and shared networks, AI uncovers hidden gems within existing talent pools, potentially discovering the perfect internal candidate for a new role. The inherent functionality of the CMS expedites the processes of engaging with these candidates, interacting with them, and maintaining their interest in upcoming contract work.
  • Targeted talent pools: AI builds customized talent pools based on specific skill sets and niche expertise, ensuring you connect with the right people for specialized positions. The CMS, by design, develops and continually engages community members. 

Automated Passive Candidate Sourcing

  • AI algorithms are adept at identifying and engaging passive candidates, those not actively seeking employment. This proactive approach broadens the talent pool, ensuring access to high-caliber professionals who may not be actively job hunting.
  • Recommendation engines use historical data to predict candidate preferences, streamlining the process of matching passive candidates with suitable job opportunities.

Incorporating Predictive Analytics

  • AI-driven predictive analytics analyze vast datasets to identify trends and patterns. This helps recruiters anticipate future hiring needs, enabling strategic workforce planning.
  • By understanding candidate behavior and preferences, recruiters can tailor their approach, increasing the likelihood of attracting top talent.

Overcoming Federal Talent Shortages through Technology

Finding skilled, qualified, and experienced candidates will continue to remain at the forefront of federal contracting throughout 2024. Passive candidates may hold the key to uncovering the best workers in the fastest time with advances in process automation.

Given the dynamics of recruiting today, AI stands as a transformative force, offering unparalleled advantages in candidate sourcing, DEIB, and overall efficiency. Understanding the distinctions between Applicant Tracking Systems and Candidate Management Systems, and integrating the two, could be crucial for organizations seeking to optimize their recruitment processes. By adopting industry best practices and embracing the latest innovations, workforce solutions providers can help the government agencies stay at the forefront of talent acquisition, ensuring they attract, engage, and hire the best candidates in a competitive market.

Photo by Andy He on Unsplash

Continue reading

Our newsletter

Get great curated articles every week.

Combine sections from Ollie's vast component library and create beautiful, detailed pages.
No spam!

Innovative talent powering a brighter future.