On the podcast “Government Contracting Today,” Jim Lawler, vice president and chief human resources officer at ICF, spoke with host Louis Montgomery about his experience and the current government contracting environment.
Virginia is currently the No. 1 state for government contracting, a $450 billion industry. Lawler entered the industry by joining TASC Inc. as its chief HR officer. When comparing HR in the consumer industry and the contracting sector, Lawler says there’s no major difference at a strategic level.
Ultimately, “if you treat people fairly and consistently, you’ll be OK with regards to those expectations,” Lawler said.
Some of the major challenge the federal contracting industry faces are the shrinking talent pool and the significant backlog of security clearances. Those two hurdles, combined with the retirement of many veterans, have generated concern about the future of the GovCon industry.
“It gets tougher and tougher to attract and retain people, and we’re essentially driving up the price of labor,” Lawler said.
Despite these challenges, Lawler offered advice for new organizations seeking to differentiate and gain talent:
- Pursue a path of being a really great place to have a career
- Create a track record of retaining people by treating people fundamentally right
- Cultivate talent, give pathways to grow and go forward
Lawler attributes his career in HR to his psychological understanding of the importance of retention and what makes a workplace appealing to current and prospective employees.
When ICF was founded in 1969, it mainly focused on raising capital and investing in developing inner cities. As fate would have it, ICF was more successful in providing solutions to federal agencies. Its clients today span commercial and federal sectors, split roughly 50/50, allowing for more opportunities and a more diversified portfolio.
Since joining ICF in 2014, Lawler has been fundamental in numerous changes to benefit current and future employees. These changes included adjustments to the benefits plans, reframing compensation packages and modifying the performance review process. ICF plans to examine its plans for career growth next to ensure everyone has the right and equal access to promotion within the company.
ICF’s largest customer is currently the Health and Human Services Department, to whom ICF provides policy advisory work, training and technical assistance work and runs health-related analytics work, among other tasks.
ICF’s current workforce consists of 53 percent millennials. What sets them apart is that they want things previous generations wanted but were too hesitant to ask — whether it be more feedback, more opportunities, work-life balance, etc.
“Everybody wants those things,” Lawler said. “To me, the difference for millennials is that if you don’t provide that, they’ll go somewhere else.”
To hear more about ICF and Lawler, click here.