Sept. 1, 2020 | By Bruce Katz, Public Affairs Specialist, Kessel Run
In March, with newly released orders and restrictions put in place to battle the spread of COVID-19, Detachment 12 (Kessel Run), Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) and many employers in the greater Boston area and around the country began to modify and redefine its workforce and work spaces. Some businesses would end up closing their doors permanently and many employees would find themselves temporarily furloughed or more permanently unemployed.
For the businesses and agencies which remained, the challenges also created real obstacles to maintaining or growing its work force amid all the changes and restrictions local officials were employing in their efforts to enhance public safety and health, and reduce risks associated with contracting the virus.
“Things changed for us after March 12,” recalls Hannah Grise, HR product manager at the Boston-based unit. “Kessel Run made the move to work remotely. We outfitted our team with the tools and resources they needed to work securely and safely outside of our offices. We harvested and issued equipment from our work spaces to enable them to complete their work from home.” As if these events, school closings, and travel restrictions were not enough, Kessel Run was about to enter into its fourth significant hiring campaign and event in two years.
“We have a fantastic and very important mission supporting warfighters with software and products,” Grise noted. “In order to keep pace with the growing demand for our products and platform, our commander had the Talent Ops team prepare for a hiring campaign starting in June as we were all adapting to our new work situations.”
Known as a pathfinder organization, Kessel Run’s team began exploring new ways to not only innovate its work practices, but ramp up its staffing and capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This was our fourth hiring event, but the first one we would complete in a virtual environment,” explained Hannah Hunt, Kessel Run chief of staff. “We pivoted very quickly to build this event due to COVID-19 and to create a model for a hiring event that would now happen virtually.”
Kessel Run was not previously a largely remote or mostly work-from-home operation. With a need to hire candidates in the new WFH environment, the development of a re-imagined hiring campaign and process for attracting, screening and interviewing potential candidates was needed to meet its goals of filling nearly 50 available positions related to its software development, design and engineering mission.
“Currently, it takes about 16 steps to identify a candidate and move them through the hiring process and onboard them into the federal government,” stated Hunt. “We knew we would need to revamp and experiment with various mechanisms and practices to expedite the hiring process, while maintaining the integrity of the process and meeting all the associated requirements for hiring.”
Hunt went on to explain innovation was needed not just because of the issue of the pandemic, but for the government hiring process itself, which has been known to take as many as 200 days or longer to on-board new civilian employees.
“In order to have a successful hiring event and to expedite candidates, we knew we would have to create an impactful and complete virtual experience to have selected candidates interviewed, accepted, negotiate terms and complete the associated documentation in order to be able to generate an offer of employment all in a short time,” Hunt detailed. “Our goal was to get folks into roles within six weeks following the hiring event, which we knew would require significant planning and prep work going into the hiring event.”
As is the nature of Kessel Run, the leaders and facilitators of the hiring event began to look at its current practices, tools and resources. Driven by delivering the best candidate experience and a user-focused approach toward designing the event, many changes emerged.
“We knew the candidates we sought were not used to looking for jobs on the government website (USAJobs.gov) and that most government job postings are filled with jargon or language not commonly known or used by folks outside of the government job world,” Hunt shared.
With more ambitious goals for its campaign and hiring event, the group explored technologies, resources and opportunities to develop an “un-government” looking approach to its manpower acquisition process and tools.
“We selected and began using a new HR applicant tracking system called Greenhouse,” Grise explained. “We really liked the functionality and a big part of Greenhouse is we were able to post on a multitude of job boards very quickly and very easily with a simple press of a button or a simple integration we added to the platform.”
“We explored opportunities outside of the traditional government hiring site and explored new software, venues and leveraged social media to shape the campaign and event,” added Leah Vincuilla, HR manager at Kessel Run. “We also looked to solve the logistical issues associated with virtually moving multiple candidates in and out of interviews and other elements of the hiring event which involved several hiring managers and officials.”
With its new campaign strategy, tools and vision, Kessel Run launched its advertising and marketing campaign in June to promote the available positions and generate a pool of well-qualified candidates.
“Normally, we would be able to have candidates come into our offices and see not only the work spaces, but also the way in which we work and experience our culture,” recalled Grise. The ability to host an open house or other in-person networking events was not an option and the group had to look for new solutions to share with candidates its culture and “feel.”
The need was filled by creating virtual events to engage with candidates prior to the application deadline. For the first time in any of its hiring campaigns, the unit created and hosted two unique events to give prospective new hires a deeper look into the organization and hear from community members directly.
The first event hosted, “Women of Kessel Run,” allowed female candidates the opportunity to hear from and ask women at Kessel Run about their personal experiences, the culture, and advancement and leadership opportunities for women. The second event, “Strength in Diversity,” allowed candidates from varied ethnic, racial, and other areas related to one’s own identity to speak with a diverse panel of KR community members about diversity, equity and inclusion in its workplace.
“In an industry where many people don't get the opportunity to see themselves represented often, it is important for us to be able to showcase that not only are we a diverse organization, but that we also value the contributions of our team members,” said Yari Ising, engagement director for the detachment and coordinator for all the KR virtual events.
“We explored the idea of marketing in very niche areas or groups and posting jobs on job boards like Black Girls Who Code and other specific software community outlets and resources,” revealed Hunt. “This also helped us to uptick the diverse pool of candidates we received and were able to select from.”
According to Vincuilla, social media and job boards outside the traditional practices were not only tested, but proven to be successful during this campaign.
By the end of the six-week campaign on July 24, the Air Force’s first software acquisition and development unit had racked up nearly 1,400 applications for its new roles. According to Grise, this represents seven times the number of applications received in any of the three previous hiring campaigns.
“The success of this campaign is reflected in our data points,” Hunt noted. “I think being a virtual event was helpful, but also being open to candidates working in a remote capacity was of interest to many.” Nearly half of the candidates eventually offered a position will be able to work permanently in a remote location stated Hunt.
Once hiring leads and hiring managers were done sifting through the hundreds of applications and narrowing the field of candidates through virtual interviews, those selected to continue in the process were notified and given an invitation to a virtual hiring event held August 11-12.
“We were really able to down-select and pick the best candidates available out of that group,” added Grise. “We worked very closely with our Organizational Senior Functional (OSF) element to help them understand the roles we were seeking to fill and give them advice on salary range and other elements to consider in hiring for the available positions.”
Once the hiring activity completes its round of interviews, the OSF interviews and further processes the candidates selected by subordinate organizations like Kessel Run. Vincuilla shared that during this two-day event candidates were interviewed, given a determination on their ability to advance in the process, negotiate compensation and ultimately leave the event with an Intent To Hire Letter. She added 40 candidates received the letter and, if all are eventually joined to the organization, this would represent a 13 percent growth in the civilian government employee workforce at Kessel Run. The data also revealed the detachment recruited and hired top tech talent from Silicon Valley and other tech hubs like Austin, Atlanta, and the local Boston community.
"I would summarize the KR recruitment and hiring practices with one word, teamwork,” reported Sherri Artuso, personnel director at Air Force Life Cycle Management Center (AFLCMC) at Wright-Patterson AFB. “The partnership between AFLCMC and Kessel Run is what makes it possible to market and advertise for very specific skills requirements enabling the hiring managers to select from a highly qualified talent pool, interview and select in a very expedited manner."
According to Vincuilla, The first few candidates to make it from initial application to start date at Kessel Run averaged just under 67 days. As compared to the estimated 180-day timeline for federal hiring, this represents a 63% shorter path to employment than most seeking government employment will experience.
“This event was a great success,” shared Christopher Echols, AFLCMC Chief Information Technology Officer (CITO), Cyberspace Operations Support (COS) Senior Functional, who served as an interviewer during the Kessel Run hiring event .“The Detachment 12 team in cooperation with AFLCMC DP conducted the virtual hiring event (VHE) via the ZOOM platform using a series of private rooms (Interviewers, HR, Candidates). From my perspective as an interviewer it went flawlessly. I highly recommend this platform for future VHE’s.”
“Kessel Run has grown exponentially since it was created three years ago,” exclaimed Hunt as she related the importance of acquiring a technically savvy and experienced workforce. “We (Kessel Run) began as a small group of 25 people to develop a product for the Air Operations Center (AOC), but now find ourselves working on programs to support the F-35, F-22, and CV-22 programs and a cloud platform. We value government led development, in which the government serves as the lead integrator for weapon systems capabilities, so we need to have a predominantly Government team to deliver capabilities that users love.”
Kessel Run has planned an “Ask Me Anything” event for September 10 at 10 a.m so other government agencies and military units can get insights and information on how the organization created this experience for candidates. Click Here to register for the event