By William Wiley

This little pop quiz is for you readers who are supervisors. HR specialists will already know the answers.

Pop Quiz No. 1: How much education does a person need to have to be minimally qualified to be a senior Human Resources specialist in the federal government?

  1. A graduate degree
  2. A bachelor’s degree
  3. A high school diploma or equivalent
  4. Zero, as in not even kindergarten

Pop Quiz No. 2: How much government-specific training is a practitioner required to have to be a Human Resources specialist in the federal government?

  1. 80 hours within the first two years of employment
  2. 40 hours within the first year of employment
  3. At least 8 hours annually
  4. Zero, as in not even what can be written on a 3 x 5 note card

Pop Quiz No. 3: Why is the term “human resources professional” a misnomer?

  1. It suggests a distinction from “animal resources professional.”
  2. “Professionals” are individuals who usually develop their craft from the long-term study of a large developed body of knowledge in an institute of higher education.
  3. The main organization in the federal government devoted to the field is named the “Office of Personnel Management,” not the “Office of Human Resources Management.”
  4. All of the above

Fortunately, you don’t need a 3-D printer to come up with the three 4s as the correct answers to these questions. Amazing, isn’t it? The field of personnel management in the federal government has huge responsibilities, can cost an agency millions of unnecessary dollars if it makes mistakes, and its practitioners routinely claim they don’t get the respect they deserve. Yet in my nearly 40 years in the business, the most significant upgrade the field has made to itself that has been made is to change the name of practitioners from “personnel specialists” to “human resources professionals.”

You don’t get to be a professional by declaring yourself to be one. You have to earn it with formal education. Go ask a classifier.

In comparison, look to some of the modern high-tech companies. At Google, for example, in their “People Operations” division, fully 1/3 of their positions are occupied by specialists required to have graduate degrees in organizational psychology or physics. Cutting edge companies like Google see the field of personnel administration to be a science with decisions based on the collection and analysis of large amounts of data, more data than a single specialist could accrue in hundreds of years of experience. For example, do you know the minimum number of interviews required to hire a top-notch performer for your agency? No, you don’t. But the personnel specialists at Google do because they use applied science and data analytics to reach that conclusion.

No disrespect is intended here. The federal government is fortunate to have a number of individuals working in the personnel (or “people”) field who have learned critical thinking and analytical thought through formal education including advanced degrees. A few have developed those skills without formal education. However, until the bar is set across government for a significant minimal educational level for entry into the field, coupled with a requirement for both initial and on-going continuing education in the respective specialities in a personnel function, practitioners will suffer from a lack of respect, supervisors will suffer from a lack of top-notch support relative to people management, and Our Great Country will suffer because the federal government is not as efficient and effective as it could be.

And don’t get me started on attorneys who don’t educate themselves in the field of federal employment law even though they have significant agency responsibilities in the specialty. I can hum this tune forever. Wiley@FELTG.com

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