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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A Federal Survey Revealed the Top HCM Challenges—Here’s How to Overcome Them
Educe Group is a Cornerstone services partner with broad experience working with government agencies. HCMG and Cornerstone OnDemand recently teamed up to conduct a human capital management study and analyze responses gathered from more than 100 government HR executives on the federal, state, and local levels. The goal of the resulting research, the HCMG State of Human Capital Management in Government Report, was to benchmark the last five years of progress in HCM in the government space, identify trends and provide guidance for leaders going forward. We have paired some of the key findings with software-based tips and best practices to help you formulate a strategy to develop and engage your workforce. The most-cited barriers to change? Culture, in tandem with organizational structure and internal communications. The agency environment moves slower than the private sector, and this translates to fewer opportunities to roll out new initiatives. Creativity can be a key asset for getting around this challenge. Government organizations can handle this challenge by taking a phased approach to the rollout of a new system or initiative: List and prioritize all of your current and upcoming business requirements. Identify those that have both high business value and low barriers for change to get started start. Developa realistic timeline for implementing initial requirements, ensuring that you build in time for a comprehensive change management effort and training for administrators, managers and employees. Establish checkpoints throughout the process to validate plans with stakeholders at various levels of the organization to build accountability, engagement and adoption. Gradually roll out additional features in manageable increments, so that you can transform your business at a realistic pace while still engaging employees with new features. Bonus tip: Consider aligning your internal release schedule with that of your system vendor’s. This will provide consistency and create an expectation of enhancements with a predictable cadence. "You have to know who on the staff is actually interested in leadership. There is many a story of how a person was identified as ’high potential’ and given extra training, mentoring, etc., only [for employers to realize] that they had no interest in a higher-level position because they didn’t want the stress or wanted to spend more time with their family than a higher-level position would allow." Leverage your talent management software to bring your employees into the conversation and gain insight into their short and long-term aspirations, as well as their current engagement and satisfaction levels. Encourage your employees to complete an online profile describing their short-term and long-term career aspirations. This will serve as a conversation starter with managers about their career path options, and how to get there from their current position. Set hierarchical goals. Have managers sit down with their team members and map out long-term objectives that roll down to short-term goals. Again, this starts a conversation that may alert the manager early on of flight risks or potential career pivots. Make use of software-based engagement tools such as on-the-spot feedback and check-ins to facilitate continuous, transparent conversations between managers and employees. Display quick and easy happiness surveys on your system home page so that employees can report on how they're feeling about their job/work/boss/business at any given time and action can be taken in cases where feedback is trending negative. "Succession planning, especially in the federal sector, is a great challenge because of the concerns of pre-selections. You don’t want to build a succession plan with any particular person in mind because that gives the appearance that there is no room for competition for those roles." Development planning for potential successors must be intentional, tracked, multi-modal and aggressive in order to improve and encourage retention of high potential employees. Start by developing standard definitions of high-performing and high-potential employees, then calibrate those management ratings with senior management and HR. Mitigate bias and deepen the organization's leadership pipeline by identifying successors through talent searches based on specific criteria such as education, performance results, calibrated succession metrics and 360 competency ratings. Use tools like cohort leadership programs to build relationships, develop an idea-exchange program, facilitate moderated online leadership discussions with senior leaders and share interactive learning experiences. Involve leaders across talent acquisition, learning and development, rewards and human resources teams to create a holistic plan for high-performing, high-potential employees. This could be a part of broader efforts such as ensuring that job descriptions are aligned appropriately with skills and proficiency descriptors and instituting knowledge/skill increase through features such as observational checklists and regular peer feedback. The results shared in the HCMG State of Human Capital Management in Government Report show that there is awareness at the HR executive level of the need to remove cultural barriers in order to accelerate change, develop stronger programs to develop high potential employees and institute more effective succession planning. Developing more tactical plans to achieve these objectives will require breaking down each objective into manageable pieces to encourage adoption, engagement and acceptance along the way. Check out the infographic to view additional key findings! Photo: Creative Commons
3 Ways to Address Brain Drain in Government Agencies
In the age of constantly evolving technology, it's easy for any company to fall behind. But state and local government agencies face a particular set of challenges: budget cuts, an older generation of employees, a lack of resources and a strict hierarchy that can stand in the way of moving forward. This hinders opportunities to enlist young, fresh talent and retain them within the agency. A recent survey from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence found more than 90 percent of state and local government human resource managers rank recruiting and retaining qualified personnel as the most important issue they face. While government agencies can't often compete with the salary, perks, and brand of young tech startups or large organizations, they can find budget-conscious ways to create a compelling work environment and career opportunities. In addition to the civic impact and fulfilling work government agencies offer, it's important to provide talent with ways to learn and grow on their own terms. Here are three ways government agencies can bring in and hold on to top talent. 1) Be Flexible It's important to provide employees with flexible scheduling and work environments. By offering mobile training or an online onboarding experience, employees can work from anywhere, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. According to the Center for State and Government Excellence study, only 22 percent of agencies offer regular telecommuting for eligible positions and 28 percent of workplaces didn't offer any flex work practices. By providing a flexible workplace, agencies can improve employee engagement, as well as increase dedication to the company. According to the Best Places to Work data, work life balance has proven to be a key differentiator when people are considering where to work. Additionally, the public sector lags behind the private industry in offering these flexibilities. 2) Provide a Modern Learning Experience As HR ushers in a younger, new talent pool along with the latest technology, it's important to remember the older workforce. Training is ongoing, says Steve Dobberowsky in a recent webinar on how to attract and retain the incoming generation, senior principal of thought leadership and advisory services at Cornerstone OnDemand. So to help different generations succeed at the same place, provide everyone with video content to learn new skills and keep the user experience simple. Also, start automating the application, screening, and onboarding processes to utilize your employees' time. As Dobberowsky says, people no longer go start at one organization with the mindset that they are going to stay there for their entire career. Therefore, it's important to give young employees the resources to learn new concepts. By thinking about what's next in technology—such as artificial intelligence and smart workflows—instead of staying set in old ways, you will start to attract the type of workforce that will bring in fresh ideas to build the future of your agency. 3) Focus on Your Employer Brand According to the same study by the Center for State and Government Excellence, 84 percent of recruitment for state and local government agencies is done through online job advertising. It's important to amp up your online presence, Dobberowsky says, because 84 percent of workers would consider leaving their job for another company with a strong reputation. Agencies should be vigilant about maintaining their online presence and take active steps to maintain that identity. In today’s technological world, people look to what others are saying about things before making up their minds on issues such as ’where do I want to work?’ Most people do their research online. Take a look at your Glassdoor account to see how your ratings are doing and respond to employee comments. Adopt a consumer-style strategy for marketing and engaging potential employees. Use social media to your advantage and update LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter with useful information about your agency, as well as marketable content that shows off a mobile and diverse workforce. By taking control of your agency's online presence, you can start to draw in the ideal candidate for your agency—and take action to make the employee want to stay long term. For more information, check out our latest webinar, "How to Attract and Retain the Incoming Generation of Government Employees." Photo: Creative Commons
What State Governments Can Learn from the Cornhusker State
For state governments, striving to operate as "one employer" comes with a variety of challenges. To start, state agencies range in size, geographic spread and mission, and they tend to operate in isolation from one another. When it comes to managing, engaging and training state workers, frequently there are as many methods used as there are state agencies. With 17,000 employees across 80 divergent agencies, this story rings true for the State of Nebraska—and in 2010, the State set out to unify its workforce management efforts, turning to Cornerstone OnDemand’s integrated talent management solution to support its initiatives. We recently sat down with the team at the State to discuss their progress and explore the benefits realized since undertaking their transformation. When speaking to state governments across the country, I am regularly asked what states like Nebraska did to make their talent management efforts successful. What best practices should they take away from these successes when changing or reviving their own talent management projects? Several factors make Nebraska’s initiatives successful. Understand your talent The State of Nebraska’s talent team thought beyond individual agencies to understand the skills and abilities of its entire workforce – both what skills employees possessed, and where training was needed. Looking at the entire talent pool across 80 agencies helped the State to align and consolidate training, development and succession planning efforts statewide. As a result, the State was able to create consistent methods of employee evaluation, measurement and training – something that transcends agencies, administrations and changing elected leadership. Engage the workforce The State of Nebraska didn’t settle for the commonly held perception that state government jobs rarely provide exciting, upwardly mobile and career-building opportunities. Taking matters into their own hands, the talent management team challenged this assumption and demonstrated to employees that the state is committed to providing the tools and training to let employees grow and develop their skills, obtain increasing levels of responsibility, and pursue leadership positions. Involving employees in discussions around their development led to a more productive and engaged workforce committed to growing their careers with the State. Develop careers – beyond the agency Nebraska’s agencies were siloed and operated independent of other departments within the State, and as a result, their employees—especially in the smaller agencies—often embraced a limited perspective on their job opportunities, focusing only on the narrow career progression path within the confines of their current team. With its increased focus on the whole talent picture, Nebraska is leveraging its talent management programs to help its workforce embrace a different kind of path – one where employees can move across agencies as they build their careers, learn new skills and take on increasing leadership responsibilities. This approach helps motivate employees, improves retention and a commitment to a government career, and provides a vehicle for ensuring the right people with the right skills are in the right roles. Federal, state and local governments are well aware that they need to improve how they recruit, engage and retain employees. Like the State of Nebraska, governments that embrace creative ways to approach their workforce and talent management activities will see a transformation among employees that lets them not only meet the requirements of today, but also prepare to address the emerging needs for tomorrow.