Feds expand upskilling program with Pathways rule

Dive Brief:

  • The federal government just finalized a rule that may put skills-based hiring front and center. The April 11 update to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Pathways Program now expands and streamlines early career learning and development opportunities for federal jobs. 
  • Effective June 11, the final rule creates opportunities for program interns and fellows to become permanent agency employees, and expands the recent grads program to people who have “completed certain career or technical education programs.”
  • The feds got the ball rolling for the Pathways Program in late 2010, with a July 10, 2012, effective date. The update was proposed in August 2023.

Dive Insight:

The program will consider applicants eligible for permanent position if they have completed one of three pathways: an internship of 320 to 480 hours, for high school to graduate-level students; “one to two-year developmental experiences in Federal agencies” for recent graduates, with some exceptions for veterans; and a presidential management fellowship program, for those pursuing an advanced degree, such as a J.D. or doctorate.

Skills-based hiring has continued to make headlines, with most companies failing to increase staff without degrees even after dropping degree requirements, according to a 2024 report. Harvard Business School and The Burning Glass Institute suggested that less than 1 in 700 hires benefited from degree requirements being dropped. 

The OPM noted that the Pathways Program is meant to “supplement, but not substitute for” a competitive hiring process at the federal level. The goal, per the agency, was to ease agencies’ talent acquisition work.

OPM noted that it “received several comments that expressed general support for the proposed regulatory changes.” It also cited a few agencies’ more critical feedback.

One key OPM finding was that agencies, applicants and Pathways participants had requested more transparency regarding job opportunities for new talent.

Another commenter suggested the language surrounding the program was not encouraging or affirmative for “diverse individuals and those with disabilities.”

“The changes in the proposed rule (and finalized here) that expand eligibility criteria to include career and technical education will allow agencies to recruit from a broader spectrum of applicants,” OPM wrote. “This change should support agencies as they work to reach applicants with diverse backgrounds.”

While OPM’s program deals with federal employment, the Pathways Program may provide a standard or prototype for company internship and fellowship programs. It may also provide a qualified talent pool: Some recruiters have touted the benefits of hiring workers from boot camp-style learning and development programs.