A roadmap for NCAR's future workforce

NCAR's Workforce Management Plan, a work in progress for the past year, was released at the end of 2009. The goal of the WMP is to ensure a vibrant and productive workforce into the future and maintain a high morale among staff.

The plan stems from UCAR's 2007 proposal to NSF to manage NCAR, in which UCAR pledged to work with the NCAR Executive Committee to develop an overall workforce plan as part of NCAR's strategic planning process. The completion of an NCAR strate­gic plan for the 2009-2014 period presented an ideal opportunity to assess the organization's workforce.

"The WMP was a very healthy exercise for the institute," says Roger Wakimoto, who led the effort as EOL director. "It's a balanced document that high­lights a broad range of issues and has resulted in a number of thoughtful recommendations."

Roger WakimotoRoger Wakimoto, who was named NCAR director on January 26, chaired the WMP Executive Committee while serving as EOL director.

The WMP Executive Committee, chaired by Roger, led the process of gathering input and crafting the plan. The WMP process was an NCAR-wide effort, with staff contributing via regular town hall meet­ings, Web surveys, and direct correspondence with the committee. The committee focused on two main topics: determining whether the current NCAR work­force is optimal for executing the NCAR Strategic Plan, and identifying areas of improvement such as mentoring, diversity, performance evaluations, and work environment.

Five subcommittees that comprised more than 50 managers and staff addressed key areas of the plan:

  • The environmental scan subcommittee looked at external and internal factors that influence NCAR's operations and the metrics for documenting them. Its recommendations, contained in the plan, include promoting mentoring, clarifying how job functions are evaluated, collaborating on best management practices across labs and divisions, and collecting data on workforce trends.
  • The diversity subcommittee analyzed NCAR's hiring and promotion practices and trends and identified opportunities for workplace diversification. Its recommendations include building partnerships with colleges and universities that educate minority students, reaching out to diverse graduate stu­dents through NCAR's graduate fellowship program, expanding summer undergraduate programs, and articulating guidelines for recruiting and retaining diversity.
  • The staff and visitor balance subcommittee reviewed the types of jobs in NCAR's current work­force, identifying issues that should be addressed within job groups and the balance of jobs needed. Its recommendations include increasing the number of both ASP postdocs and long-term visitors, adopting standards for Ph.D. equivalence, encouraging sabbati­cals, and eliminating "safety nets" or extended leaves of absence (more than one year) for people who have accepted jobs elsewhere, as such leaves create bud­get uncertainty and reduce flexibility for new hiring.
  • The scientific and engineering appointments subcommitte recommends clarifying a number of issues, including the appointment process for ladder scientists and research engineers, the balance be­tween fundamental scientific research and communi­ty service, the boundaries between ladder tracks and other appointments, and the policy on stopping or slowing the clock for promotions. It also advises revis­ing appointment criteria and processes for promotion as well as revising and strengthening the post-ARG (Appointments Review Group) review.
  • The professional development and work envi­ronment subcommittee looked at the diverse needs of NCAR's employees for workforce development and job satisfaction. It recommends positioning salaries strategically, promoting benefits, tailoring hiring pro­cesses for a competitive environment, making office/lab space equitable, promoting telecommuting, plan­ning for succession, and more.

Although the WMP was originally intended for NCAR staff, a number of the recommendations con­tained in the document are being assessed on their appropriateness for UCAR staff, according to Roger.


Staff weighs in on the workplace

As part of the WMP, a Workplace Climate Survey was conducted with almost half of NCAR staff (413 in all; 237 men and 176 women) responding to questions about different aspects of the organization’s environment. The goal of the survey was to explore staff perceptions of the workplace. Data are contained in the WMP report.

Highlights include:

• 85% of respondents agreed that the NCAR workplace is welcoming.
• 89% reported that it’s friendly.
• 88% reported that it’s flexible.
• 80% of respondents feel suitably challenged by their jobs and feel that their skills are well utilized.

In addition, in a series of open-ended questions, 60% of respondents commented on what contributed to their workplace success, citing good supervisors and mentors, flexible schedules, supportive coworkers, intellectual freedom, and the absence of micromanagement. Fifty-six percent of respondents wrote about hindrances, mentioning inadequate budgets and insufficient resources, reorganizations and moves, overwhelming workloads, issues with management practices and decisions, and the absence of opportunities for advancement. Suggestions for improving the work environment included better communication (particularly as related to budget decisions), the need for better management skills, mentoring, and assistance with career planning.