The State Worker

The State Worker: California launches overhauled government jobs website

Landing a California state job just got a bit easier.

Last month, the Department of Human Resources’ quietly unveiled its revamped employment portal, jobs.ca.gov. The new website takes the hiring process paperless and cuts through some government-job gobbledygook. It also tests whether CalHR can build a successful high-tech system with in-house talent. Generally, departments hand off that sort of work to contracted firms – sometimes with expensive, disastrous results.

After a few misfires, the CalHR project started anew in 2013 as part of a larger reorganization of state civil service. So far, the Examination and Certification Online System has cost $6.5 million of the $10 million allotted for it. CalHR Director Richard Gillihan said he expects the overhaul will finish on budget and on time in late 2017.

Although the project represents just a sliver of state government’s $3.5 billion high-tech project portfolio, it has profound potential to alter government itself.

As the online gateway to state employment, jobs.ca.gov makes the first impression on job seekers who want work but don’t know the complicated hiring process. The hiring maze is so convoluted that consultants build careers coaching people through it. The state holds seminars to explain it. Many people on the outside navigate the labyrinth with the help of someone on the inside.

The old jobs website threw up obstacles. For example, users could put “lawyer” or “janitor” in its job search engine and get zero results. “Attorney” and “custodian” would produce long lists of jobs, however, because the system recognized only the state’s official job titles. Some of the most common positions have inscrutable titles, such as “associate government program analyst,” so outsiders didn’t know how to look for openings.

The revamped site now recognizes keywords, so commonly used terms produce hits.

And the new system uses paperless technology. Now job seekers can create an online account, apply for multiple jobs, upload résumés, track progress through the system and receive job notices. The old system was hard copy and snail mail.

“We’re moving away from antiquated legacy-based paper processes,” Gillihan said.

Unlike state projects that contract out IT work, CalHR relied on in-house talent. The project team includes nine state employees and four supervised contractors. Their task was both technical and cultural: Could government IT staff shift the paradigm and create useful tools for job seekers outside the bureaucracy?

“We challenged them to imagine a different world,” Gillihan said, “and then challenged them to build it.”

There have been a few hiccups. Some users’ account information did not transfer into the new system. The server crashed the first day. There have been 10 minor patches to correct flaws that surfaced after the system went live. There will be more tweaks as the website is put through its paces.

“But no showstoppers,” Gillihan said. “I think this is a win for the state.”

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