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Software Group exceeds hiring goals for fiscal 2020

  • Published
  • By Ron Mullan
  • 72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

The Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex’s 76th Software Engineering Group hired 336 new employees in fiscal 2020 exceeding its goal of 300. This brings the group’s total workforce strength to more than 1,500 employees, including interns.

Danny Melcher, 76th SWEG branch chief, said despite the tough environment they faced in FY20 with coronavirus challenges, industry competition for a small pool of qualified engineers, scientists and hiring process obstacles, the 76th SWEG set hiring records for the third year in a row. 

Melcher credited external organizations such as OC-ALC Business Operations, Air Force Sustainment Center Directorate of Personnel, AFSC Engineering and Technical Management Directorate, Staffing and the 72nd Force Support Squadron’s Civilian Personnel Office as being critical in providing support in surpassing the hiring goal.

“I want to provide my genuine praise to everyone involved in assisting the 76th SWEG recruit, hire and retain the talent needed to meet our warfighter’s mission capability needs,” Melcher said. 

Carissa Huffman, 76th SWEG recruiting coordinator, explained what engineering specialties they were looking to fill with new hires.

“We typically look for electrical engineers, computer engineers, computer scientists and sometimes mechanical and industrial engineers,” she said, adding, the SWEG typically looks for individuals who are specifically interested in career paths that usually fit the computer engineer work such as software sustainment, software development, circuit analysis, engineering processes, information technology, cybersecurity and other professionals with IT experience.

Normally the 76th SWEG pursues a variety of avenues for recruiting new hires to include hiring events, referrals from current SWEG employees, career fairs each spring and fall and in some cases, supervisors schedule interviews with their own contacts.  Once supervisors make selections, a tentative job offer is sent to the candidate and if accepted, hiring paperwork is initiated and pressed forward until the candidate is hired.

However, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 76th SWEG had to modify their approach to recruiting and hiring new employees.

“We went all virtual, nothing was held in person,” said Rebekah Valencia, 76th SWEG recruiting coordinator.  “We are trying to be very strategic with how we handle this pandemic and hope to use some of these practices in the long term.”

With all career fairs being virtual, the pool of candidates changed a bit. 

“In-person career fairs meant that we could reach out to people who would be good for us, but don’t know about Tinker,” Valencia said.  “On the other hand, virtual career fairs had candidates that already knew about Tinker and were interested already.”

Despite these challenges, the virtual career fairs and hiring events were successful due to the fact that candidates who lived out of state and couldn’t come to an in-person event were able to interview. 

“We were able to get a wider variety of candidates since we could reach anyone across the country,” said Valencia.

When the spring in-person hiring event was cancelled just two weeks before the scheduled date in March, the team had to quickly come up with a plan to go virtual. They looked into several platforms (text, video, audio) and went through several product demos before they settled on a platform. 

“The platform selected was chosen due to its one-way interview capability,” Valencia said. “It was important for us to have the ability to send candidates an e-mail with a link to the platform where they could view pre-recorded questions and record their own video responses to each question. Supervisors then review their video answers and make selections.”

The spring hiring event took place in May and since the recruiters already had a list of candidates to interview from the cancelled in-person event, the team just switched them to virtual. But things didn’t always go smooth the first time out of the box. Sometimes, according to Valencia, the platform e-mails didn’t go through to the government e-mail, due to government firewall issues. 

Another issue encountered was the one-way interview style videos. Candidates had a few challenges because it was a pre-planned set of questions and it was hard to gauge how the interview was going.

Supervisors also faced some challenges themselves. “You can’t immediately ask follow-up questions or ask more specifics about projects the candidates worked on or find out their specific role,” said Valencia.  “If the candidates go off-topic on their answer, we can’t follow up with questions to get them back on track to get the answer that we actually need.”

For the fall hiring event, the team went to a two-stage process. First, supervisors reviewed the one-way video, then there was a follow up with a virtual two-way video where the supervisors could interact with the candidates. 

While the virtual hiring events worked well Huffman pointed out that they are keeping the door open on in-person events in the future.

“There is definitely some benefit and we are looking at how we can incorporate virtual hiring practices moving forward,” she said. However, Huffman said benefits for being in-person include being able to conduct lab tours to show candidates what they would be doing and where they would be working, and getting a better feel for who the candidates are as they interact with others in person.

Huffman went on to say it is much easier to conduct face to face interviews rather than in front of a screen. 

The team will continue to use some virtual options for out of state candidates and people who can’t come to in-person hiring events to possibly to get a wider variety of candidates, said Huffman.

For FY21 the 76th SWEG recruiting team is focusing on hiring specialized journeymen and looking to set another hiring record.