Currently, 60 percent of federal employees are over the age of 45, and nearly one-third of state and federal employees will be eligible to retire within four years. This large exodus of the workforce is referred to by some as the “silver tsunami.” With these baby boomers reaching retirement age and an improving U.S. economy, hiring qualified people and then retaining them for long-term success is becoming increasingly difficult for the public sector.
CPS HR Consulting, a public sector-focused human resource consulting firm, in conjunction with M/C/C, an integrated marketing communications firm, sat down with a group of millennials who were either working in, had previously worked in or are interested in working in the public sector, and asked them a few questions to gain insight into the mindset and mentality of this group. The results tell an interesting story about this new workforce.
What attracted you to the public sector?
Many of the millennials interviewed said they chose public service because they wanted to make a direct impact in the community. One interviewee interned at a private company right after graduation. She thought she would come in and become a corporate shark, but instead she saw the company eating people alive. She decided she didn’t like what she saw, so she changed her path and joined the public sector.
What are the advantages of working in the public sector?
Job security and benefits, including pensions, were two of the top reasons these millennials chose to enter the public sector. Additionally, participants said that having direct influence on the lives of the citizens in their communities was a huge advantage to working in the public sector.
“I may never see the fruit of it,” one public school teacher said, “but I know that every conversation or every leaf I turn over is somehow going to benefit those kids.”
What are the disadvantages of working in the public sector?
Interviewees mentioned low pay, reduced staffs and political interference as problems. “Money cannot be the reason why you get into the job,” one firefighter said. “You have to really like what you’re doing because you see bad stuff that you don’t get paid well enough for.”
Additionally, they said starting new initiatives can be difficult due to a lack of funding, because you are often pitching a social benefit as opposed to a monetary outcome.
Other turnoffs are federal shutdowns and pay freezes, competing with older workers and veterans for entry-level jobs, lengthy hiring processes, lack of full-time positions, less opportunity for creativity and innovation as well as a pay-your-dues mentality.
How can the public sector collectively overcome these current realities and perceptions? Here are several suggestions:
Visit college campuses. Agencies can become an option for millennials by getting students to think about the public sector and how it matches what they most care about. Participate in career fairs; get government leaders more involved in recruiting; create a stronger, more effective campus recruiting process; and talk to students in applicable majors, such as criminal justice, political science and business. Some of the best companies in the private sector use these tactics to fill their talent pools.
Give supervisors the correct tools. The first step is attracting millennials. After that, motivate and keep them by ensuring supervisors and managers are prepared to approach this generation. Many millennials expect on-the-spot recognition over formal reviews. They feel this is imperative for their growth and understanding of the job. Supervisors should provide mentoring programs, open-door policies, frequent feedback and praise for quality performance to best connect with this group.
Hire more quickly. This generation is accustomed to instant gratification, and the public sector is not known for speed. The longer it takes to hire a good candidate, the less chance you have of actually hiring them. If it is taking 90 to 120 days to get through the process, you end up stuck with the people who are left over versus the people you want.
Write more compelling job descriptions. Job descriptions should both inform and inspire. Create a picture where prospective employees can see themselves in the public sector. Avoid jargon-filled descriptions and emphasize the positive aspects of government service. Where possible, offer flexible work schedules.
Increase your online presence. It is where a vast majority of applicants are looking for careers. Post openings to job boards and advertise online, especially on social media. The most important resource today is an organization’s website, and yet too many spend too little time on it. Your website should not look like it dates to the inception of the Internet.
Attracting millennials is a necessity. Recruiting this generation requires a different approach. Understand the motivations of this audience and play to their strengths.
Jerry Greenwell is the chief executive officer at CPS HR Consulting.