Introduction and Background

The NCAR workforce of the future will be high quality, productive, and increasingly diverse. It will support the mission of the national center and be strongly interactive with the university community, through collaborations, a healthy visitor program, and visits of NCAR staff to the universities. It will have an appropriate balance among junior and senior staff and visitors. A reasonable turnover rate will ensure renewal and foster change. It will have a significant number of student and postdoctoral appointments. Our personnel policies and practices, including salary and benefits, will be competitive with our peer institutions in the United States. The staff will balance expertise in science, engineering, education, and administration/management/ facilities. They will be provided opportunities for mentoring and career development and be supported adequately by the funds available. Staff will be evaluated and paid fairly and be resilient to minor fluctuations in budgets from year to year. When expertise does not reside in-house, strategic partnerships will provide benefit to both NCAR and partner organizations.

Introduction and Background (continued)

Purpose

The UCAR proposal to manage NCAR, submitted to the National Science Foundation in 2007, stated that “UCAR will work with the NCAR Executive Committee to develop an overall Workforce Management Plan (WMP) as part of NCAR’s overall strategic planning process.” Indeed, one of UCAR’s highest management priorities is to recruit, develop, and retain a high-quality and broadly inclusive workforce for NCAR. The development of this plan and identification of issues does not imply that the current system is ineffective. UCAR has been honored as one of the Best Companies to Work for in Colorado (large company category—more than 200 employees) and first among nonprofits. However, any successful organization should engage in a process of self-reflection periodically in order to ensure that its workforce is nimble, responsive, and at the leading edge.

NCAR is a federally funded research and development center devoted to research, service, and education in the atmospheric and related sciences. NCAR conducts scientific research, operates observational and computational facilities for the science community, and develops and transfers technology and information products to interested users. Our primary sponsor and most important strategic partner is the National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF’s support is highly leveraged by funding provided by other government agencies. NCAR supports NSF’s mission by helping the United States attain a position of world leadership in science and technology, promoting the transfer of new knowledge to society, and contributing to excellence in science and technology education. NCAR is managed by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), a consortium of 75 member universities that offer PhDs in the atmospheric and related sciences. NCAR has a synergistic relationship with the UCAR member universities, who provide oversight and are one of the biggest users of our computational, modeling and observational facilities.

The WMP is intended to provide a roadmap that will allow NCAR to meet its short- and long-term objectives, consistent with its 2009-2014 Strategic Plan. It supports the “fabric” of NCAR while positioning the center to evolve with a goal of a vibrant and productive workforce that will play a leadership role for many years to come.

In creating strategies for an effective workforce, we conducted a scan of external factors that describes the environment in which we operate. Such factors include demographics of our potential workforce, especially in critical skills areas; projected labor trends such as staffing supply and demand; policies and compensation practices of our peer institutions; funding possibilities and constraints and needs shared by our external stakeholders.

A WMP also requires a snapshot of the organization’s current workforce. Demographics and expected retirement rates, employee satisfaction, compensation and benefits offerings, and current practices provide metrics to compare to our environmental scan. The plan then can identify areas where we can take corrective measures or where we can enhance our programs to optimize our workforce to meet the demands identified in the NCAR Strategic Plan.

Introduction and Background (continued)

Process

The organization carried out a comprehensive, thoughtful, and open process to gather the input needed for an effective WMP. This report is the result of that process and will be used by NCAR, UCAR management, and the UCAR Board of Trustees in developing a specific action plan to address many of the recommendations.

The process was launched in December 2008 with the formation of a WMP Executive Committee (EC):

Workforce Management Plan Executive Committee
Roger Wakimoto, Chair (also Subcommittee I chair)
Rick Anthes (ex officio)
Eric Barron (ex officio)
Maura Hagan (ex officio)
Bob Roesch (ex officio)
Terry Woods (ex officio)
Helen Moshak (Subcommittee II chair)
Chris Davis (Subcommittee III chair)
Jim Hurrell (Subcommittee IV chair)
Sue Schauffler (Subcommittee V chair)
Jan Wilmesmeier (administrative support)

 

Subcommittees were then formed to address key areas of the plan. Over 50 managers and staff participated in these very active subcommittees (Appendix A). The Environmental Scan Subcommittee looked at external and internal factors that influence our operations and metrics that document them. A Diversity Subcommittee analyzed NCAR hiring and promotion practices and trends and identified opportunities for diversification of our workforce. The Staff and Visitor Balance Subcommittee reviewed the types of jobs in our current workforce, identifying issues that should be addressed within job groups and the balance of types of jobs needed to address our strategies. Issues pertaining to scientific and research engineering appointments were the focus of the Scientific and Engineering Appointments Subcommittee. A Professional Development and Work Environment group looked at the diverse needs of our employees for workforce development and job satisfaction.

The subcommittees were not tasked with performing cost/benefit analyses for their recommendations. This guidance was provided so that their discussions could focus without constraint on what they believed was the ideal workforce of the future. However, a complete financial analysis is required and will be performed by UCAR and NCAR management as they craft an implementation plan based on the recommendations contained in this report. It is also noteworthy that many of the recommendations are tightly coupled and should be implemented together rather than alone or in piecemeal fashion. For example, the recommendations for changes in appointment policies and practices for NCAR ladder-track scientists are closely linked with the recommendation to tie the number of ladder scientist positions to the NSF base budget.

The WMP EC provided strategic and administrative guidance throughout the process. This included setting milestones to ensure that timely progress was being achieved and sharing best practices for soliciting input, identifying key findings, and providing final recommendations, all in the context of achieving the NCAR Strategic Plan. The WMP EC endeavored to create a process that was transparent, seeking broad input from the staff and providing timely updates. The EC created numerous avenues for continued communication and involvement of staff such as town hall meetings, interviews with individuals or groups, anonymous surveys, and retreats. A website was constructed and EC meeting minutes were posted and distributed via Today@UCAR, the electronic daily newsletter to all staff. The project timeline included scheduled opportunities to inform and seek input from NCAR’s primary stakeholders: employees, UCAR/NCAR management, the UCAR Board of Trustees, and the National Science Foundation (Appendix B).

The Personnel Committee of the Board of Trustees was invited to participate by phone in all WMP EC meetings, and minutes of these meetings were distributed to all UCAR staff and the Personnel Committee. A wiki site served as a source of information and also as a working site for all of those involved with creating the WMP (https://wiki.ucar.edu/display/wmpexec/Home).

The EC believes the process was robust and inclusive. A rich body of work was developed by the WMP subcommittees, and their findings and recommendations are central to the roadmap created to achieve a balanced and successful workforce for NCAR’s future. Recommendations that are both a continuation of and an enhancement to present institutional practices are highlighted in blue. The remaining recommendations are new and, in many instances, major changes to our current system. This partitioning is not precise; it is meant to call out the more significant modifications being proposed.