Many human capital officials are worried these days about how to ensure that government continues to attract, train and retain the superior workforce it needs to fulfill all aspects of its mission. Younger workers are a particular concern as agencies strive to remain employers of choice for the millennial generation (born between 1980 and 1995).
Pervasive anecdotes about how long it takes agencies to hire cybersecurity workers or about government IT staff jumping ship to the private sector convince us that there is an issue with young skilled workers in government. But understanding what is at the root of that issue can be more difficult.
It goes without saying that government won’t be able to solve its workforce issues unless it understands them clearly. Hence any solution needs to begin from accurate data on the government workforce -- how it’s changing, and what’s driving those changes.
Some open workforce data is already being published, which helps. The Office of Personnel Management’s FedScope is a valuable resource at the federal level, and the Census Bureau’s Quarterly Workforce Indicators program sheds valuable light on state and local government labor forces. Some states -- Minnesota is a good example -- have also published easily accessible and timely workforce data as part of transparency efforts.
We recently took a fresh look at these data sources and found some surprising things about the challenges facing millennials in the government workforce. Folklore might tell us that millennials are hard to recruit and harder to retain, and not as passionate about having government careers as previous generations were. But the available data tells us a different story: Millennials in government are actually holding on to their jobs longer than previous generations did at similar ages, and if they do leave, they tend to choose other jobs within government. They are also no less passionate about their public sector work than other generations -- their engagement scores and pride in their employers equal those of other generations.
Unfortunately the currently available data couldn’t answer all our questions about what’s causing the pain points for government HR executives. To understand those trends better and to craft targeted solutions, here are three specific improvements to workforce data which could help.
First, no state to our knowledge publishes workforce data equivalent to OPM’s FedScope (Washington being perhaps the closest). Having clear and consistent data on the composition of each state’s workforce each year, including numbers of hires and separations, would shine a light on where the most pressing problems for each state lie. It would also show which states may have established leading practices other states can follow. Government workforce advocacy organizations such as the National Association of State Personnel Executives might consider convening a working group to define common workforce data elements and an interchange format to ensure comparability among all 50 states.
Second, both the federal government and state governments should publish hiring times in addition to numbers of hires, and turnover rates in addition to number of separations. Hiring times give a clearer indication of how hard it is to recruit workers than do raw numbers of hires. Turnover rates give a clearer picture of which occupations and agencies are having difficulties retaining employees, more so than raw numbers of separations. Neither statistic is easily available.
Third, no state or federal agency to our knowledge publishes data on employee development. All government workforces would benefit from having this information available. Young workers tell us that personal development is a critical concern for their generation. Providing training and growth opportunities for all employees -- especially younger workers with rare skill sets -- should be front and center in workforce strategies. Publishing numbers of promotions and transfers by age, agency, gender and occupation would be a great start.
Sharing this data would be good for government too in terms of competing with the private sector. Federal pay scales are already public, giving prospective employees the salary range for the current opening and future career growth. More data about career development, turnover rate, and average hiring times would give applicants a more complete, 360-degree view of the organization -- something companies in the private sector do not typically disclose. As the job market tightens, government employers need to compete. More data and greater transparency in its hiring process and employment trends would strongly resonate with this data-savvy millennial generation, giving the government a competitive advantage.
While having accurate data on performance in these three areas may not solve all the problems for younger workers in government, but it will go a long way toward revealing what the problems really are and helping government agencies design effective solutions. Increasing the amount and quality of open workforce data can also spur innovation among private sector service providers by allowing them to develop tailored offerings that address government needs more efficiently. Finally, as agencies publish more workforce data they assist the implementation of the White House’s Government of the Future vision.
Sean Morris is a principal at Deloitte Consulting, and Peter Viechnicki is a data scientist at Deloitte Services.