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Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a great way to really learn what they do every day, and how we can make their lives better. This week, I joined the President’s “Day in the Life” effort. Throughout the summer, senior administrators are traveling the country speaking with -- and learning from -- the people we work for every day.
While in Los Angeles this past week, I had such fun spending time with two extraordinary individuals – Matthew Gonzales, a Federal employee at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, and Megan Rodriguez, an Air Force veteran who works for the state of California as an employment assistant helping other veterans find jobs. Both are young Latinos driven by a passion for public service.
Matthew entered the Federal government as a Pathways intern, a program that brings the best young talent into government and sets them on the path to a Federal career. Matthew is now a civilian program manager at the space and missile center. He also co-led the first chapter of Young Government Leaders in Los Angeles.
Matthew shared something that really made an impression on me. At his job, there is always a lot going on and he is experiencing and doing many things for the first time. But, he said, with pride, while he is not always expected to know everything right away, he is always expected to learn. Matthew knows he has the support and tools that he needs to keep growing, and that is part of the reason why he believes the Federal government is a great place to start his career. That spirit of service is exactly what our nation needs. And I know that Matthew is one of hundreds of thousands of Federal employees with that same enthusiasm.
Megan has a passion for helping fellow veterans find jobs. While attending Mount St. Mary’s College, she founded its Veterans Outreach Association and she has continued that work now that she has graduated. We discussed our shared passion for helping women veterans get Federal jobs, especially STEM jobs. She would be a great fit in the Federal government.
In Matthew and Megan, I saw so many positive qualities: passion, dedication, an overwhelming desire to help people, a call to service, and a truly hopeful vision of the future. These young professionals remind me what it was like to once walk in shoes similar to theirs. I know there are obstacles they face each day, but their commitment to public service makes me confident we will continue to have a diverse, talented, caring, and devoted Federal workforce. Their insights helped me understand firsthand what young Latinos are thinking and what we need to do to attract them to Federal service.
I was glad to be able to tell them that we are already working hard to increase the number of Federal employees from underrepresented communities and to support and develop them in their careers. They share my commitment that we have a workforce that truly represents the bright mosaic of the American family.
So really, we learned a lot from each other. If we take the time to stop, listen, and just for a moment, put ourselves in another’s shoes, we’ll keep learning. And that makes all the difference.
This Saturday, July 26, marks the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a day for us to celebrate the tremendous contributions of people with disabilities to our country. From classrooms in Sacramento to buses in Denver to sidewalks here in the District of Columbia, this landmark legislation makes sure that Americans with disabilities are guaranteed full access and the same opportunities promised to all Americans.
On July 26, 2010, President Obama issued Executive Order 13548, Increasing Federal Employment of Individuals with Disabilities, to mark the historic 20th anniversary of the signing of the ADA. His order says that the Federal government, as the nation's largest employer, must become a model for the employment of individuals with disabilities.
We have made great progress toward fulfilling the President’s vision. There are more people with disabilities in Federal service than at any time in the past 33 years. The talents, the experiences and the expertise of employees with disabilities are an indispensable part of the Federal workforce. At all levels and in every profession, the contributions of people with disabilities enrich the Federal government. Our nation is absolutely stronger because of their dedication and service.
Yet our work is not done. We must do more to recruit people with targeted disabilities. We must continue our efforts to hire and retain employees with disabilities at all levels of government -- from resume through retirement -- so that we have the strongest workforce possible.
To support Federal employees in this effort, OPM, in consultation with partner agencies, has launched an online course entitled, “A Roadmap to Success: Hiring, Retaining and Including People with Disabilities.” The course, which will be available to agencies at no cost on HR University, provides basic information and resources to help employees and managers hire, retain and advance Federal workers with disabilities. In accordance with the Executive Order, this training will be required for human resources personnel and hiring managers.
Today, let all of us recommit to building an inclusive, vibrant and powerful workforce that reflects the bright mosaic of the American people we serve.
As I work to make sure we continue to build a model workforce for the 21st Century, I have been traveling around the country meeting with Federal employees, college students, faculty members and community leaders to learn from their experiences. This week, I spent some time in Silicon Valley talking to technology industry leaders about recruiting, retaining and engaging our employees.
What I learned is that cutting-edge companies like Facebook, LinkedIn and Google share many of the same goals and face many of the same challenges we do. The leaders I met with shared some compelling insights based on their experiences. We also shared best practices that are common to private industry and government.
Like the Federal government, businesses in Silicon Valley are competing for the best talent in their fields. And also like us, they know that attracting and retaining talent is vital. Each company has found its own, innovative way to tackle these challenges. One executive I met with talked about the need to find qualified candidates where they are. Another said that his company uses staff to act as recruiters on their own social networks.
It makes sense in today’s media environment to find ways to reach potential employees across social media platforms. We need to target qualified candidates by using the communications tools that they are already using. In order to recruit the most talented candidates in the hyper-competitive Silicon Valley environment, employers aggressively pursue candidates rather than wait for applicants to come to them.
Just as diversity is one of my highest priorities, the same is true in Silicon Valley. I talked with officials at several companies about how important it is to have a diverse and inclusive workforce. Many of these firms are using similar tactics. Some work with underprivileged and underrepresented communities to cultivate interest in IT and related fields from an early age. Most rely heavily on internship programs as a pipeline for talent. And others turn to advocacy groups to help recruit to underrepresented groups.
Officials at these companies also agree with me that an engaged workforce is vital. They are looking for creative ways to not only improve the workplace culture, but to use that culture to attract talent.
Some technology companies use an equivalent of our Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey to provide insights into employee morale and job satisfaction and as a vehicle for employee feedback. Company officials know that employees who believe in their mission and see a collegial workplace will want and encourage others to join them.
These companies really are a lot like the Federal government. We have the same goals and the same challenges. Our collaboration can only help to make our own efforts that more powerful.
My conversations with these companies, and others like them, are just beginning. We have agreed to maintain an ongoing dialogue and to continue to share best practices to help each other be model employers of 21st century.
Each May since 1977 we have celebrated the achievements and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders to the American Story. During Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month we recognize the culture, traditions, history, and generations of AAPI community who have enriched America’s history and will be instrumental in its future success.
Members of the AAPI community were Chinese immigrants. It was their difficult manual labor that the transcontinental railroad was built in the late 1860;s Their efforts helped connect this great country, from the Pacific coast at San Francisco Bay to the existing Eastern U.S. rail network at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on the Missouri River.
Members of the AAPI community are federal employees and leaders of government. Christopher Lu is Deputy Secretary of Labor. Norman Mineta served as the Secretary of Transportation for President Clinton. Dr. Steven Chu served as President Obama’s Secretary of Energy.
Like America itself, the AAPI community draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures.
The theme of this month is “I Am Beyond.” The phrase captures how Americans of Asian and Pacific Islander descent have always sought to excel beyond the challenges that have limited equal opportunity in America.
What a wonderful message for us all. Nearly five years ago President Obama established the White House Initiative on AAPIs. The Initiative addresses disparities in health care, education, and economic opportunity by ensuring Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders receive equal access to government programs and services.
In his proclamation commemorating AAPI Heritage Month this year, the President calls on us to “…recall our hard-fought progress, let us resolve to continue moving forward. Together, let us ensure the laws respect everyone, civil rights apply to everyone, and everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to get ahead.” You can read the President’s full proclamation on the White House's website.
As a former educator and community leader, I know the value of bringing together talented people with diverse ideas and perspectives to improve any organization. This is especially important for the Federal government. The complex and important work of government requires a diverse and inclusive workforce that is representative of the many important perspectives, talents, and backgrounds of our great country.
One of my major challenges and a priority for me as OPM Director is to increase the diversity of the Federal workforce. When I talk about diversity, I don’t just mean ethnic and racial diversity. I want to make sure that people of all ages, people with disabilities and people from every corner of this great country have opportunities.
With diversity comes inclusion. We need an inclusive workforce to serve the American people.
At OPM, the Asian American Pacific Islander American Employee Resource Group works to increase awareness of the Asian American and Pacific Islander cultures as an integral part of our agency’s mission. It supports the diversity and inclusion goals of our agency and provides opportunities for mentorship, support and development within the OPM community.
We also continue to support the programs of the Federal Asian Pacific American Council. I was honored that FAPAC representatives attended my reception after I was sworn in as OPM Director in December 2013.
So during this month and all through the year, let us focus on bringing together talented people with diverse ideas and perspectives. Like the AAPI community which draws strength from the diversity of its many distinct cultures, we at OPM need to draw strength from the diversity we have within our agency.
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