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Closing the Federal Millennial Hiring Gap

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After a boom, there doesn’t have to be a bust. Federal agencies have a real opportunity to increase the number of millennials in their workforce as more and more baby boomers retire.

When baby boomers—the largest generation of its time—entered the job market, their traditional roots landed them seamlessly in the federal workforce. But agencies have had a difficult time getting the now-larger-in-number millennials on board. Despite making up about one-third of the private sector labor force, the under-30 crowd represented only 7 percent of federal employees in 2015—the lowest that figure has been in nearly a decade.

It’s not for lack of open positions. By 2017, 31 percent of federal workers will be eligible to retire. Many of those jobs are in areas where millennials are comfortable. U.S. Chief Information Officer Tony Scott estimated that the government would have to fill 10,000 jobs in cybersecurity in 2016, and government loses approximately 5,000 information technology workers each year. Agencies need these young digital natives to deliver on the promise of federal IT modernization and digital transformation, much like when President Obama hired hundreds of millennials from Silicon Valley to revamp Healthcare.gov—the group that became the U.S. Digital Service.

Closing the gap starts with understanding what millennials want out of a career. This doesn’t mean your agency needs to start allowing ultra casual attire or dogs in the office. Above all, millennials need to see their employment as a tool to change the world for the better. The great news is that no industry offers a better opportunity to make a difference than the federal government.

More than 86 percent of millennial federal employees say their work is important. That jibes with federal employees across the board, where nine out of 10 say the same.

Millennials also care about diversity, another area where the federal government has an edge. African-Americans, for instance, represent 17.4 percent of the federal workforce, compared with 10.1 percent of civilian labor.

In addition, workers under 35 desire a path for professional development. Some federal jobs require employees to create an individual development plan, in which they outline their short- and long-term career goals.

From mission to culture to development, agencies have a great recruiting pitch to millennials—the bigger challenge has been getting the word out. Waiting for young people to find your listing on USAJobs just isn’t an effective strategy in today’s digital age. Agencies need to be more proactive about developing their online presence and actively engaging with talent.   

Here are three easy steps for getting started.

Build Your Message

How would your employees describe your agency? If the answer isn’t that it is poised to make meaningful changes in the world, then you have a branding gap with millennials.

Fortunately, government agencies are positioned to be impactful, but only a few are taking full advantage of that in their marketing strategies. Marines.com is a great example of a government entity that is making a bold statement, using slogans like “Your Impact” and “Many Roles, One Mission” on its homepage to create awareness of how becoming a Marine could change a person’s life and the world. The Interior Department brands itself as “protecting America’s great outdoors and powering our future.”

Every government agency has a hook like these. The EPA protects our nation’s natural resources, the Homeland Security Department keeps U.S. borders safe, the Transportation Department is investing in cutting-edge technology to transform the way Americans travel. Boldly state why your agency is equipped to change the world, and you will pique the interest of millennial talent.

Think Like a Digital Native

To attract millennials, you need to find them where they live: online.

A study by Monster and YouGov found that 59 percent of millennials scope out a firm’s website when looking for a new job. In a separate survey, 43 percent thought the federal government should use social media as a hiring tool. This is 12 percentage points higher than Generation X and baby boomers rate the importance of social media in hiring.

Agencies should have a central location where they can engage with recruits, presenting a fresh face that stresses culture and purpose. The Air Force, for example, has a career page that helps candidates “prepare for success.” Aside from written messaging, your site could feature pictures and video, so the so-called “selfie generation” can relate to your agency’s brand through dynamic imagery.

Interesting content comes with another bonus: It increases organic visits to your site through sharing. Plainly stated missions naturally lend themselves to maximizing keywords. This all results in your page appearing higher than others in search engines.

This is the generation of instant gratification, constantly checking their social accounts for retweets and likes. They expect the same from the hiring process. An astounding 95 percent of millennials said they wanted to hear back from recruiters about what they thought of them. Providing feedback throughout the hiring process is essential, but employers could start this communication even earlier, prior to speaking to a candidate on the phone or in person. If you have a method of keeping tabs on your candidates, matching them to jobs they might not have thought of or keeping them abreast of their status, you can feed the sense of belonging they felt when applying for the job in the first place.

Spread the Word

After creating a strong brand with an equally robust online presence, you need to ensure these potential employees can easily find this information.

The website you create should be accessible on a cellphone or tablet. One in five millennials solely use mobile devices to go online, and nearly half of all consumers will not revisit a website that isn’t mobile-friendly.

A few agencies have tapped into social media as a method to get their message to younger candidates. NASA, which has been named the best place to work in the federal government for the past four years, tells the story of its culture through its hashtag #NASAProud. It also has a Twitter account, @NASAPeople, that spotlights job opportunities and profiles its employees.

The National Park Service took an image-based approach with its Instagram account. Featuring sweeping panoramas of some of the nation’s most spectacular sites—along with cute animals, an internet must—the account draws a huge presence of more than 330,000 followers.

Bottom Line

There is a void in the number of millennials in the federal workforce. Yes, this up-and-coming generation of professionals is different from more senior employees in terms of their wants and needs. But you can attract young candidates to your agency through strong branding, mobile-friendly websites, engaging social networks and accessible content.

Millennials’ desire to find a purpose in life through their work can translate into employees that will give you their best work.

Susan Fallon Brown is vice president of global strategy and business development at Monster Government Solutions.

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