Status Report

NASA Lessons Learned: Workforce/Career Development/Retention and Recruiting

By SpaceRef Editor
October 3, 2003
Filed under ,

PLLS Database Entry: 1172

Lesson Info

  • Lesson Number: 1172
  • Lesson Date: 01-feb-2001
  • Submitting Organization: HQ
  • Submitted by: David M. Lengyel


Workforce/Career Development/Retention and Recruiting

Description of Driving Event:

Lack of a Well-Developed Long-Term Plan for the NASA Workforce

Lesson(s) Learned:

Recent downsizing and limitations on hiring have produced a workforce with aberrations in normal career development patterns and a potential future shortage of experienced leadership.


Develop and implement a long-term workforce plan, focused on retention, recruitment, training, succession, and career development needs, with at least a five-year time horizon that will ensure the availability of competent and experienced leaders. Also provide a strengthened capability in organizational development.

Evidence of Recurrence Control Effectiveness:

Code F – Concur: NASA concurs with the recommendation. The recent experience with downsizing, coupled with Agency concerns about and aging workforce, demonstrate the importance of long-term human resources planning.

In 1998, under the auspices of the Chief Engineer’s Office, the Agency conducted a core capability assessment that focused on the physical and staffing needs of the Enterprises and Centers of Excellence. This, and other similar activities, while very helpful, resulted in tactically-oriented decisions related to solving near-term human resource issues.

The Agency is now embarking on a follow-on strategic resource planning activity, based on Centers’ future vision and mission, taking into account workforce and facilities needed. This activity, led by the Associate Deputy Administrator, involves the active participation of the Enterprises and Centers and support from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the Office of Human Resources and Education, and the Office of the Chief Engineer. The result will provide a plan for each Center that links staffing, funding resources, mission and activities, and core competencies and will enable them to focus on recruitment, retention, training, succession and career development tailored to their individual circumstances.

Once this activity has been completed, the Office of Human Resources and Education will continue to work with the Center Human Resources Directors to assess the impacts of demographic trends. Together the Human Resources community will develop plans that ensure that the Agency has the requisite staffing, training, career development, and recruiting and retention tools and programs necessary to support the Agency mission.

In addition, the Office of Human Resources and Education has been actively engaged, with input and support from the Enterprises and Centers, in a number of activities and initiatives to renew and revitalize the NASA workforce. These range from activities to recruit, retain, and continue development of a highly capable workforce today to endeavors to ensure a future source of highly qualified talent in the science, math, and technology disciplines needed to carry out the Agency mission over the long term.

With respect to recruitment, the Agency is committed to marketing NASA as an “employer of choice.” In order to be competitive with other employers, NASA recognizes that it must have a continuing presence on college and university campuses. The more than 140 on-campus recruitment trips scheduled for this coming fall and spring 2002 are typical of this presence. In addition, the Agency will continue to utilize the Presidential Management Intern Program and student employment programs as sources for entry-level hires. NASA will also continue to promote the Internet as a recruitment tool and to work collaboratively with professional organizations (i.e., National Association of Colleges and Employers and National Academy of Public Administration) in an effort to remain competitive.

Our NASA Centers utilize various hiring authorities that enable them to offer starting salaries above the minimum rate of a grade. The use of recruitment bonuses by the Centers to attract the “best and the brightest” has also increased significantly in the recent past. The number has increased more than 300% from FY 1999 to FY 2000 (from 20 in FY 1999 to 69 in FY 2000 and 14 in just the first quarter of FY 2001) – a trend that we fully expect to continue because of an increasingly competitive job market and high cost of living surrounding some of our Centers.

In addition to these ongoing efforts, NASA will continue to be innovative in it recruitment efforts. We are implementing new automation tools, i.e., a position description management software package and two staffing software packages to improve the effectiveness and timeliness of the hiring process. We are enhancing the Agency’s human resources websites to make them more responsive to applicant information needs. Further, we are developing new qualification requirements for cooperative education students in order to more effectively recruit. Additional non-permanent employment options are being pursued where they are practical and the Agency is working with the Office of Management and BUDGET (OMB) and the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to facilitate new employment options. The Agency has a new five-year plan for the employment of people with disabilities and will develop other outreach efforts designed to maintain a diverse workforce.

A new National Recruitment Team, based at Headquarters, is currently being established to develop new Agency-wide recruitment strategies and tools to meet NASA’s current and future hiring challenges in attracting and retaining a world-class, highly technical and diverse workforce. This team will facilitate and complement the Centers’ recruitment efforts; collaborate with the Institutional Program Offices and Functional Offices; enhance relationships with universities; eliminate duplication of efforts; and facilitate targeted diversity and disability recruiting.

The retention of a highly skilled workforce is equally vital. While the use of retention allowances has more than doubled from 5 in FY 1999 to 12 in FY 2000 (and 7 in the first quarter of FY 2001), this rate of usage has been impacted by downsizing and restructuring efforts in recent years and the continuing need to offer targeted buyouts to deal with our skills imbalances. NASA will continue to assess the skills of its workforce and restructure as necessary through buyout and early out retirement incentives to assure that NASA has the necessary skills for present and future mission success. In addition, we continue to emphasize quality of work-life initiatives such as alternative work schedules, family friendly leave programs, part-time employment and job sharing, telecommuting, dependent day car and employee assistance programs. Promoting SAFETY in the workplace, providing effective awards, recognition and stimulating work will enhance job satisfaction and foster retention.

In the arena of developing competent and experienced leaders, in the last 18 months NASA conducted a leadership study and created a model to align development of our leaders to the NASA Strategic Plan and Strategic Management System. The study included benchmarking, working with universities, and the results of interviews of over 500 NASA/JPL employees performing in leadership roles from team lead to executive senior leader. This model provides a roadmap of skills and competencies for effective NASA leadership and is being used to respond to the training and developmental needs of the workforce. As part of NASA’s strategy to prepare our next generation of leaders, there are several long-term developmental processes in place at both the Center and Agency level. These include the Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program, the Professional Development Program, partnerships with academia to provide fellowships in leadership and project management development, and Center-specific development programs. In addition, the curriculum for developing project management leaders is being reviewed to ensure that appropriate skills and competencies are developed.

In the area of organization development, one of the features which will be enabled by an increase in training resources is the ability to provide intact team support. By providing developmental intervention to teams, NASA will be able to contribute to improved performance of teams, as well as better prepare individual team members for future opportunities. NASA is also engaged in a strategy to develop employees in the theories, methods and tools of learning organizations. Pilots are showing that these skills enhance motivation, communication, and understanding of complex systems. Several Centers have also increased their organizational development resources and capacity and are offering facilitation services to their organizations.

The Agency is also looking at ways to help assure a future pipeline of talent from which the NASA and others can draw. FY 2001 marks the pilot year of the new NASA Undergraduate Student Research Program. This Agency-wide program was developed to extend and strengthen NASA’s commitment to educational excellence and university research, and to highlight the critical need to increase the Nation’s undergraduate and graduate science, engineering, mathematics, and technology skill base. The Undergraduate Student Research Program will also build a national program bridge from existing NASA K12 Education Program activities to NASA Higher Education Program options that encourages and facilitates student interest in future professional opportunities with NASA and its partner organizations. Such opportunities might include NASA career employment; temporary assignment; undergraduate and graduate co-op appointment; or contractor positions.

Applicable NASA Enterprise(s):

  • Aeronautics & Space Transportation Technology
  • Human Exploration & Development of Space

Applicable Crosscutting Process(es):

  • Communicate Knowledge
  • Generate Knowledge
  • Manage Strategically

Additional Key Phrases:

  • Administration/Organization
  • Aerospace SAFETY Advisory Panel
  • External Relations
  • Human Resources & Education
  • Policy & Planning

Approval Info:

  • Approval Date: 18-mar-2002
  • Approval Name: Bill Loewy
  • Approval Organization: HQ
  • Approval Phone Number: 202-358-0528

SpaceRef staff editor.