FORT KNOX, Kentucky - A team of human resources professionals at Fort Knox is preparing to create a hub that will tackle a recruiting challenge.

Led by Erika Jaskolski, director of the Civilian Personnel Advisory Center at Fort Knox, the three-person team is preparing to recruit, equip and house about 30 recruiters who will be responsible for hiring and retaining all gate guards across the entirety of U.S. Army Installation Management Command.

That effort, when finalized, approved and funded, will affect hundreds of guards working at upwards of 45 locations at the Army's stateside installations, to include Hawaii and Alaska. The initiative began in earnest over a year ago.

"The reason why we started this is because many managers said, 'We've got to get better at this; I can't be living at 50-percent attrition, or 50-percent on board strength,'" said Jaskolski. "Some of the places even had 80 percent attrition."

The issue went to Jaskolski when she heard about it after a conference where IMCOM officials announced their desire to start a pilot program that would thoroughly explore the problem and find solutions. Jaskolski said she believed she was the right person to head it up.

"As much as I knew the difficulties of hiring for these positions, I'm the type of person that likes to fix a problem," said Jaskolski. "I said, 'I'll take on the problem -- even though I knew that the problem was great. I knew that I might not have all the answers, but I was willing to take that on."

IMCOM gave her the go-ahead, so in June 2016 she started working closely with Gwendolyn Kimmich at Headquarters, IMCOM, and Lesa Brown at Headquarters, Civilian Human Resources Agency, to map out the problems and potential solutions. By August, the three had established a transition plan. On Sept. 1, her local team began recruiting efforts at six locations: Fort Knox; Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort Jackson, South Carolina; Fort Sill, Oklahoma; Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and Fort Irwin, California.

In January of 2018, they added a seventh - Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

"We took over full recruitment at these locations," said Jaskolski. She explained that in order to reflect accurate numbers in the program, they only took on new recruitment actions, leaving actions already in process at local centers.

Jaskolski said part of the problem of hiring and retaining gate guards stems from high turnover rates throughout many installations. The reasons often vary, as well. Turnover rates can change depending on the installation's location, motives for joining the force, availability of other jobs and other unique dynamics. One dynamic they have in common is a low entry-level GS rating.

"At a GS-4, all [employees] need is generalized experience, whereas at GS-5, you need specialized experience," said Jaskolski. She added that most locations, as a result, have set entry level positions at GS-5.

Although guard positions at GS-5 are comparable to those in the civilian sector, filling them at military locations can sometimes become extra challenging, especially for places like The Presidio in Monterey, California, according to Jaskolski.

"At The Presidio, the cost of living is so expensive but the reality is they can't change the pay for the base salary unless they change to a special salary rate," said Jaskolski. "You have to go through [the Office of Personnel Management] and prove they're hard to fill, hard to retain, or that maybe the geographic area reflects that you never get any applicants."

The pilot program revealed many of these challenges, which according to Jaskolski provided a much greater understanding of the issues. Juxtaposed to this challenge are limited employment perks that human resources professionals can offer, based on government regulations.

One solution that came out of the plan was focusing on local hiring agencies that would announce guard jobs for free - from military transition centers to Veterans Affairs, Department of Labor and employment agencies. Another solution is announcing jobs on an "open continuous" status, meaning there is always a vacancy. This allowed her team to hire virtually same-day as opposed to waiting weeks or even months to get a position posted on USA Jobs and filled.

Another issue in the new hire process was lag in getting drug screenings, behavioral health screenings and physicals accomplished within a timely manner for those not yet in the system. The pilot program revealed this as a big issue slowing down the hiring process. Now, new hires can be brought on board as soon as several key components of the background checks come back favorably.

The other challenge she and her team faced was figuring out how to retain guards. Pay proved to be a big issue. A couple of solutions, according to Jaskolski, were to offer pay retention and advanced-in-hire rates.

"They couldn't change the grades, but because they were having a hard time retaining, they are able to bring the person in at maybe a higher step in grade," said Jaskolski. "Then, after [guards have] been on board for six months, they could offer them a retention incentive based on the time that they already served or based on the next certain amount of time. The manager has the right to do this."

These and many other ideas led to a proof of concept by September 2017, satisfying IMCOM leaders that the plan to reduce hiring times and attrition rates has worked. Because of this, Jaskolski has been given the nod for preparing to take on the hiring task for all of IMCOM.

Jaskolski said Fort Knox was at about 70 percent when she began the hiring process. Today, it enjoys a 100-percent fill percentage. She credits her local team with making that happen.

"I have three truly amazing, think-out-of-the-box type people, so the thought process is, 'Even though you've always done it that way, is it the way we should be doing it?'" Jaskolski said. "I think they live and breathe it every day."