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Why Hiring Millennials Is So Critical

A quarter of U.S. workers are under 30, compared with 8 percent of federal civilians.

The federal workforce is aging. Among federal civilian employees, close to half are over the age of 50. Roughly one-third, or 600,000, will be eligible to retire by September 2017. A number of recent articles have discussed the federal government’s inability to bring in and retain young people. While agencies should certainly take steps to improve retention rates and influence their hiring processes, systemic obstacles — especially budget austerity — are likely to continue to make it difficult to attract, hire and retain young workers.

This is a dangerous trend.

Given that roughly half of the current federal workforce will be over 60 in the next decade, many agencies are already preparing for a significant loss of experience and talent as longtime employees retire. For example, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking several steps to transfer knowledge between long-tenured staff and more recent hires. Nonetheless, without talented younger employees in the pipeline, the capacity to serve the public could be dramatically affected.

“We know hiring millennials is really critical to the future of the government,” said Katherine Archuleta, former director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Austerity will likely continue to wear on the federal workforce.

Roughly a quarter of American workers are under 30, but within the federal government’s civilian workforce that number is less than 8 percent. Austerity budgets undermine efforts to change the demographics of the federal government at multiple levels.

For example, budget cuts in recent years have led to hiring freezes, and with few new hires, opportunities for bringing in recent graduates and young professionals are slim. Tight budgets have also led to furloughs and pay freezes, making it less attractive for young people with other options to stick around.

In addition to making it hard to bring on and retain younger workers, budget austerity has also prevented investments in human resources departments and technology. Even when a job is open and available, a clunky employment website can make it difficult to understand the required qualifications, and a cumbersome hiring process can take months. 

Overhauling USAJobs — the federal government’s official job listing website — and better utilizing social media to reach out to millennials could help attract more young people to apply for federal positions. Similarly, investments in training could improve federal human resources departments’ outreach to young professionals.

The call to public service is a proud American tradition. If the federal government loses top talent, experience and institutional memory through retirements, but cannot recruit, retain and train highly qualified workers, it cannot be effective.  Addressing the federal government’s overall hiring process creates an opportunity for a high-performing government with an infusion of new workers excited about public service, with fresh perspectives and delivering services that American citizens value and deserve.

Jessica Schieder is a policy analyst for revenue and spending policies at the Center for Effective Government.

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