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Transforming the Government into an Employer of Choice for Millennials

Patrick Devlin

Senior Vice President, Fishtree

On paper, a career in government service appears to beautifully align to the professional values and interests of millennials. A Capstrat study of millennials in the workforce revealed that balance, benefits, purpose and support trump all else for twenty-something workers — even salary. Millennials want to make a difference in society, and employment within the federal government offers countless opportunities to do so.

But what is on paper is a stark contrast to what is reality. A recent Wall Street Journal article stated that federal government employees under the age of 30 hit an eight-year low of 7 percent in 2013, versus about 25 percent for the private-sector workforce. By comparison, in 1975, more than 20 percent of the federal workforce was under the age of 30.

In spite of all the negative publicity surrounding government work, about 45 percent of college seniors remain very or extremely interested in working for the government, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. So why aren’t there more millennials employed by the federal government? The answer is simple – because federal agencies aren’t doing enough to recruit, hire, and retain them.

Critical Skills, Leadership Shortages

The federal government workforce is undergoing a dramatic transition. In addition to the leadership voids that are arising due to baby boomer retirements, there is also a rapidly growing need for skills and competencies required to manage the increasingly digital demands of today’s missions. While the current workforce is largely lacking this needed expertise, it could easily be obtained by strategic hiring of millennial professionals.

The government cannot afford to waste any more time in addressing these issues. Millennial recruitment and workforce succession planning must elevate to the most urgent priority. According to Kimberly Holden, deputy associate director of recruitment and hiring at OPM, "the government will be lost" without technologically savvy staff able to carry agencies into a digital future.

In order to build and prepare a workforce that can take on the work agency missions demand, the federal government needs to act now to recruit, onboard and retain millennial civil servants. Here is how to get started.

Fix the recruiting process

In spite of the urgent need for new employees and new skills, the government continues to rely on confusing, complicated and overly bureaucratic HR methods – ones that turn off even the most interested millennial candidate. Technologically savvy millennials are used to an on-demand world – and federal agencies must adapt to and meet these expectations. From improving the use of technology and social media to attract interested applicants to providing candidates more visibility and transparency into the hiring process, recruiters need to be creative in how they capture and maintain the attention of millennials to quickly convert them into agency employees.

Establish career paths

It’s a competitive market out there, and an improving economy is giving workers and job candidates, as opposed to employers, the upper hand. Particularly for millennials who have skills that are highly in demand across both the public and private sectors (information technology, engineering, finance), federal agencies must provide clearly defined growth and career paths to keep employees engaged, motivated, and focused on future opportunities. While we may no longer be in an era of lifetime career civil servants, agencies can still encourage millennials to have long, active and fulfilling careers at a variety of government agencies.

Provide ongoing mentoring, coaching and assessment

In order to keep a government job challenging and fulfilling (particularly as higher-paying private sector opportunities continue to beckon), millennials must receive ongoing coaching and mentoring from more experienced and/or longer tenured colleagues. From navigating the organizational structure to understanding growth and advancement opportunities to finding new ways to collaborate on mission requirements, a support network is critical for millennial engagement and retention.

Without an influx of younger workers with much-needed skills, critical government programs may be derailed, innovation will be stymied, and the competitiveness of the U.S. compared to other nations will continue its decline. The federal government will greatly benefit from the competencies that millennials bring – digital expertise, technical savvy, and a more collaborative and inclusive approach to problem solving – as soon as they prioritize millennial recruitment and hiring.

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