May 18th, 2022 | Alla Schay, General Manager of the Industrials, Government & Education business at Sterling

Overcoming New Background Screening Challenges When Hiring for Government & Education

While this year’s hiring challenges in the private sector have dominated the news, attracting top job candidates is also a major concern in the public sector. Released in May of this year, the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job openings continue to outpace hiring in government and education. But relaxing your hiring standards under pressure to quickly fill vacancies can pose serious risks if you don’t have a rigorous candidate background screening process.

Hiring Shortfalls Aren’t New in Government and Education

No one denies that tidal employment changes over the last two years have played a role in current hiring challenges, but it’s not the only driver at work here. In the public sector, the job market had only just recovered to pre-Great Recession levels a few months before the pandemic threw hiring into a tailspin. Now, a report from the MissionSquare Research Institute suggests that “We’re teetering on the brink of a public sector workforce crisis.”

Likewise, ABC News points out, “Alarms about teacher shortages predate the pandemic. According to the Institute of Education Sciences, recent studies have “‘suggested a large decrease over the past decade in enrollment in teacher preparation programs, an important source of teacher supply, and projected a substantial national teacher shortage over the next decade.’”

Labor shortages have impacted the public sector prior to 2020, but the pandemic has certainly exacerbated them. A key issue in both government and education is the “Great Resignation,” the societal shift away from traditional full-time work. The MissionSquare survey found that 52% of public sector workers indicated they are seriously considering changing jobs or retiring due to burnout and a desire for better work/life balance. The potential for a mass exodus from education is also looming. The National Education Association released a poll in February in which 55% of teachers said that the pandemic pushed them to consider leaving their chosen profession. For both government and education workers, dissatisfaction with compensation and feeling under-appreciated are also strongly-contributing factors.

Candidate Screening Best Practices for Government and Education

With so many new jobs open and soaring employee separations, fast hiring is important. However, hiring shortcuts are never the answer. This is especially true for positions of trust, whether the roles involve working with children in a school setting or working with (and on behalf of) constituents of a local, state, or federal agency. If your candidate screening process isn’t sufficiently thorough, the safety of your co-workers — and the public itself — may be at risk. People should always be the first priority in the workplace, but it’s also necessary to safeguard your organization’s sensitive information, critical equipment, and facility security. Failure on any front leaves elected officials and other employers exposed to potential reputational and financial damage.

What does an efficient, effective screening process look like? Here are some best practices to consider: 

  • Be consistent, but flexible. Whether you’re looking to hire for a key management position or to fill vacancies in public-facing roles, a methodical approach to background screening offers several advantages. Consistency ensures a fair process for all candidates. It also sets clear expectations for candidates, which can keep them engaged during the application process — a crucial point when so many organizations are competing to fill positions.
  • Start with identity verification. Identity theft and identity fraud grew significantly during the pandemic, although both had long been on the rise in our increasingly digital world. But that’s not the only reason to implement an identity verification solution like a digital identity wallet. Even a typo or missing middle initial can result in inaccurate data being returned on a background check. Receiving early confirmation that you’re screening the right person helps you move quickly and confidently through the hiring process.
  • Adjust background screening to the role. A one-size-fits-all approach to background screening can’t manage risk effectively. Instead, evaluate what factors are most important for the specific job you’re looking to fill, including what internal systems or external exposure a candidate will have. For instance, social media screening for high-visibility roles can help you identify if a candidate has expressed views that could paint your agency or school in a poor light.
  • Track for health and safety. Vaccine tracking is another important consideration in our post-pandemic world. Whether vaccine mandates continue or not, maintaining a safe and healthy workplace isn’t up for debate. Make sure to put appropriate processes in place to protect the health of your employees and the public, from pre-employment drug screening to employee health monitoring.  

When you have the right hiring processes, HR technology, and expertise in place, you can accelerate background screening without sacrificing safety. Are there any existing HR gaps you need to consider as you ramp up hiring to quickly meet demand in your industry?

Alla Schay is General Manager of the Industrials, Government & Education business at Sterling, a leading provider of background and identity services. Over the last 15 years she has served in several prominent roles at the company including leadership of client services and account management teams, Chief Operating Officer, and Chief Human Resources Officer. Alla is an operations management professional with rich experience in business process transformation, Six Sigma analysis, as well as software and CRM implementation. Prior to Sterling, Schay held senior and strategic positions at Wolters Kluwer Corporate Legal Services (CLS). In addition, she spent six years as a principal management consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Sterling is not a law firm. This publication is for informational purposes only and nothing contained in it should be construed as legal advice. We expressly disclaim any warranty or responsibility for damages arising out this information. We encourage you to consult with legal counsel regarding your specific needs. We do not undertake any duty to update previously posted materials.