WASHINGTON -- The safety and well-being of Army personnel is a top priority for the Civilian Human Resources Agency, as it continues to find new ways to acquire, develop, employ, and retain diverse talent amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hiring and HR personnel have collaboratively developed and executed innovative processes this year that will forever influence future civilian recruitment and hiring, said Carol Burton, the agency's director.
Since March, civilian recruitment operations have been able to hire approximately 21,000 new Department of Defense and Army civilian employees during the pandemic.
“We have onboarded between 1,000 to 1,300 new civilians each pay period, or every two weeks,” she said.
CHRA manages all aspects of the human resources lifecycle for close to 330,000 Department of Defense and Army civilians worldwide, she said.
Out of the 21,000 new employees, close to 85% were hired virtually, including 3,000 medical professionals to augment the Army's COVID-19 response, she said. A DOD direct-hire authority provided CHRA officials a method to fill critical medical positions quickly.
"The Army never closed; the mission continued with a guiding principle of protecting the health and safety of our workforce," Burton said. "We quickly shifted to maximum telework."
Working in tandem with other agencies, CHRA officials also looked to expedite pre-employment physicals. The agency found ways to onboard new personnel for select positions as they awaited their results.
"In terms of the virtual onboarding [and] some hiring flexibilities … I would like to continue that practice," Burton said. "We want to hire skilled individuals as quickly as possible" to retain the best candidates.
Along with improved hiring, the agency's Army Benefits Center–Civilian stood up a quick response team to support employees with their health benefits, COVID-19 Thrift Savings Plan loans, retirement, work-related injuries, or to report an untimely death, Burton said. Support is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week on the CHRA website.
CHRA's information technology division also established automated tools to aid readiness during the pandemic, she said. One such program helped track close to 5,000 overseas civilian workers impacted by the DOD stop movement order. Agency officials relied on the collected data to prioritize the movement of personnel, and get them to their gaining location safely.
While COVID-19 created a share of additional challenges, CHRA remains committed to the Army's People Strategy as officials work to implement a 21st century talent management system, Burton said.
"People are the Army's greatest strength and most valuable asset," she added. "We are seeking legislative changes to improve hiring and implementing procedures to execute onboarding and acculturation programs."
In June, the Army announced its Civilian Implementation Plan, or CIP, which aligns a range of efforts to integrate each individual's knowledge, skills, behaviors and preferences to achieve organizational outcomes and sustain readiness.
CHRA also established the Army Civilian Career Management Activity, or ACCMA, in October, which is in alignment with Army’s CIP requirements, she said.
"Before the establishment of ACCMA and the Army People Strategy, we had a decentralized method of managing civilians," Burton said.
With ACCMA, the Army now has 11 centrally-managed career fields, she added.
Previously, over 30 different career programs shaped the Army's civilian workforce. Each path provided a loose career management structure toward training, mentorship, and leader development.
The new approach to career programs “offers our civilian workforce a centralized approach to hiring and managing their careers," she said. "Army civilians will now have a clear career path. We will also have a focused effort on training for the skills that we need today and in the future."
CHRA officials are also working to expedite the hiring process to match the DOD's goal of 45 days, which starts once a position becomes vacant until it is filled, she said.
"We are at between 75 and 80 days, so we have to cut that time in half," Burton said.
Officials are currently improving recruitment efforts, starting with posting an available position before being vacated. The agency is also working to simplify a vacancy announcement to speed up the selection process.
The use of noncompetitive appointment and direct-hire authorities for critical positions will also provide more flexibility, allowing the force to meet the 45-day threshold.
"We will transform how we acquire, develop, employ, and retain the diversity of civilian talent needed to achieve total Army readiness through enhanced civilian training, education, and professional development," Burton said. "This will result in a trained, educated, and a highly-skilled resilient, modern, and ready workforce."