How Puerto Rico is transforming its government workforce with talent intelligence

They may have started by trying to index skills manually, but the government of Puerto Rico has made major strides in hiring, reskilling, and transforming from within through talent intelligence.

How Puerto Rico is transforming its government workforce with talent intelligence

5 min read
  • Nearly two-thirds of government employees didn’t hold the skills needed for their positions, necessitating a massive reskilling effort driven by talent intelligence.
  • Talent intelligence is key to scaling in a large skills-based organization.
  • Simple, straightforward change management using classic approaches like workshops and office hours still makes the most impact.

Puerto Rico’s journey with talent intelligence started the last place you’d expect — manually.

Arnaldo Cruz, Deputy Executive Director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico

“It’s a very nice story,” says Arnaldo Cruz, Deputy Executive Director of the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico, in the latest episode of The New Talent Code. He and his team created their own systems to track employee skills and develop a skill-based evaluation system. But the scalability wasn’t there.

Enter talent intelligence.

With the power of AI, Cruz and his HR team in Puerto Rico’s government have transformed their talent acquisition and management systems, deployed talent intelligence to seven of their 55 agencies to date, and moved the needle on long-tenured employees having internal mobility. 

He shares how he did all of this and more in this week’s episode of The New Talent Code.

Related content: Arnaldo Cruz shares Puerto Rico’s incredible story of adopting talent intelligence and how it has transformed the government in its pilot phase.

Indexing skills and its startling discovery

The need for transformation had been years in the making. Following economic turmoil and several natural disasters, Puerto Rico’s government was poised for a reset. 

Reskilling current employees and hiring new employees for the right role to ensure a sustainable government workforce were seen as top priorities from Cruz’s point of view.

But starting with indexing the skills of their current workforce led to a surprising discovery.

“One of our first findings when we were designing this reform was how outdated the skill sets of the existing workforce were,” Cruz said. “The average tenure of a government employee when we started was about 23 years. And, interestingly enough, more than two-thirds of their time was in the same role. There was very little incentive for mobility.”

If you assume those employees possessed all the skills needed for their current role, given their tenure, you’d be dead wrong. Inventorying showed two-thirds of them had discrepancies in the skill sets needed for their current positions. 

As a result, many government agencies had turned to contractors as the solution, not reskilling.

“There was a direct correlation between the amount of contractors that an agency had and the skill gap of incumbent employees,” Cruz said. “That’s when we felt that we needed to bring in the right talent, but we needed to make sure that our incumbents, our existing employees, had the right skills as well. 

“It blew our minds that people that had been in the same role for that long didn’t have the skills required for the role that they had,” he continued. “That really led us to rethink our approach to updating the incumbent skills.”

Turning to talent intelligence as the solution

That journey turned Puerto Rico to talent intelligence.

Puerto Rico’s journey began as a highly manually one, but once AI hit the radar of Cruz and his team they knew they had found a solution that would allow them to improve their hiring processes and inventory and reskill the majority of their workforce — without mass layoffs.

“It was just bizarre how it aligned to what we were trying to build manually and fit into our vision and goals for the approach we wanted to take in the government of Puerto Rico,” Cruz said. “It was by accident. When we started engaging with the solution, it was a perfect match for what we wanted to do in the government.”

Cruz’s team began using talent intelligence with just two of its 55 agencies — under 300 employees total. Through AI, they were able to create individual training programs and reports. Employees responded positively to the interactions with talent intelligence.

A skills-based approach was working to recalibrate their workforce.

The next stop on the journey: scaling.

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Using AI to scale 

This is where use of AI became critical because, Cruz said, “beyond the automation and the reporting… there’s no way humans can do this on a large scale.”

Lucky for him, his pilot with the two original agencies had gone so well that now other agencies were knocking on his office door, asking how they could get involved.

“The governor’s office started seeing [our results] and started looking at which agencies were going faster and how much the time to hire was being reduced,” Cruz said.

Reduced hiring times coupled with better data overall, thanks to new reports Cruz’s team introduced, also made it possible to tie historical data into this new world.

That’s when Cruz pitched a crazy idea: send emails to past job applicants, some from years prior, whose skills matched current open roles and invite them to apply.

“The government said, ‘OK, we don’t know if that’s going to work — people applied a long time ago,’” Cruz said. 

But they went ahead with the test, and the results were exciting. 

“We started seeing spikes on applications the day that the email campaigns were going out,” Cruz said. “That was, I think, one of the biggest moments as well — the fact that our actions were influencing behavior and that behavior was being reflected on the data.”

Simple change management is best

There’s been a lot of experimentation and wins through the process. Cruz says simple change management has also driven their success.

With so much new information and ways of work, keeping the approach to change management simple and even at times, in his words, “old-fashioned,” is the best approach.

Cruz’s six tips for successful adoption:

  • Branding the campaign so messages are cohesive.
  • On-site workshops and training sessions for those who like doing things in person.
  • Video trainings for those who can’t make the in-person sessions or prefer solo learning.
  • Email newsletters post-training to keep talent informed about the latest updates.
  • Online office hours with the HR team where employees can ask anything.
  • Providing surveys to keep tabs on how things are going.

“We have a long way to go,” Cruz said. “The good thing about the pilot is that we’re starting slow, we’re making adjustments, and we’re making the product and the solution better as we go along.”

Listen to the full episode of The New Talent Code with Arnaldo Cruz on our website or wherever you listen to podcasts. 

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