A Guide to Attracting Talent in Government

Delivering better employee experiences is key.

A tsunami is coming. A silver tsunami, that is. We have been discussing the coming retirement wave for years, and it’s finally here. The 2019 Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey projects that one in four federal employees will retire within the next five years. The scenario for state and local government employees is similar. I can personally attest that we are losing incredible talent and institutional knowledge at an alarming rate as career public servants retire or move to industry. Agencies need to accelerate their digital transformation efforts now to retain top talent and attract new talent to fill the gap.

This is no small undertaking. The search for top talent becomes increasingly competitive every year. As more baby boomers retire after long civil service careers, the talent shortage is expected to grow. 2019 FEVS data show that just 44% of employees believe their organization is currently able to recruit people with the right skills. 

How can government agencies overcome this talent crisis? It starts with a fundamental transformation of the employee experience, because let’s face it, the government struggles to meet the demands of today’s workforce. Although Millennials and Generation Z are extremely interested in performing mission-oriented work—something no organization delivers better than the public sector—younger generations are also accustomed to obtaining quality consumer experiences wherever they go. Government employees should have the same quality of experiences they have elsewhere in their daily lives, but too often, outdated processes and legacy IT systems make it too difficult for agencies to deliver.

While many agencies have focused on improving overall customer experience through innovative technology, what about the employee experience? Great customer experiences start with great employee experiences and when government employees work more efficiently and can see greater service delivery, it improves morale and job satisfaction and ultimately helps with retention.  

Subpar employee experiences can have serious consequences for recruiting and retaining talent. But by seeing experience through the eyes of current and future government workers, agencies can better understand and prioritize their employees. This can be achieved through three steps:

1. Enact policies to drive change. 

The government has gradually embraced innovative technology, but there is still considerable work to be done, especially when improving the employee experience. Agencies pour their IT budgets into legacy systems, some of which pre-date the first moon landing. These outdated systems and processes are not only expensive, they also leave employees spending too much time completing tedious tasks instead of performing more strategic functions that can directly drive their agency’s mission. That’s why laws like the 21st Century IDEA Act are so important. It requires the federal government to modernize its websites and make them mobile friendly and accessible to people with disabilities, digitize paper-based forms, and accelerate the use of digital signatures. These are three critically important starting points to help government organizations accelerate digital transformation and deliver quality experiences for both their employees and customers. 

2. Refine agency brands through web modernization.

In the age of Instagram and social influence, perception of a brand has never been more critical, especially to Millennials and Generation Z. Young professionals are mission-driven and want to work for organizations that can clearly communicate their purpose and values. The federal government has made strides to communicate to current employees how their work impacts the greater mission—85% of employees say they know their work helps fulfill their agency’s goals, according to the 2019 FEVS data.

Every agency has an important story to tell. Unfortunately, agencies don’t always use the most modern tools to tell their stories to a broader audience, which can greatly hinder a prospective candidate’s understanding of the work. As social media continues to play a key role in shaping the perceptions of younger generations, agencies must use it to help attract prospective candidates and ultimately, reinvigorate their current workforce. 

One agency doing this right is NASA. Besides using a robust social media presence to spotlight advancements in earth science, space research and space launch systems, the agency also uses social media to promote the work and unique experiences of its employees, such as its “Women’s History Month” video series on YouTube. 

Having a dynamic web presence that uses data and analytics to connect relevant content with hiring prospects and deliver a personalized experience can also greatly improve brand awareness and recruiting.  A few government agencies doing this right are the Army, Marine Corps and Air National Guard. Each has invested in modern web content management systems to deliver a multichannel web experience that effectively tells their story to a target audience that consumes content almost exclusively on mobile devices. Using data to enhance the recruiting experience leads to more time on recruiting pages and more recruit leads. These investments have also improved the experiences of both recruits and recruiters. For example, less than 10 years ago it could take up to 15 days for lead delivery. Today it takes less than two hours. 

3. Create positive mission outcomes. 

Public sector employees at their core want to make the world a better place and they come to work focused on their agency’s goals. The 2019 FEVS found that 96% of federal employees say they are willing to put in extra effort to meet their agency’s mission. Digital investment can help employees reach their organization’s goals faster and more easily. 

For instance, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—a nonprofit founded by Congress in 1984 to work with law enforcement to find missing children and reduce child sexual exploitation—recently modernized its website as well as the applications it used to develop age progression composites of missing children. This project boosted online engagement with 90% of visitors clicking on content and ultimately contributed to a 97% recovery rate of all missing children reported to the organization.  

Personnel across government are performing invaluable work and it’s important for prospective candidates to understand this. By implementing the right policies and technologies, government agencies can improve employee engagement and by extension, retain critical personnel and attract younger workers to the public sector. 

Jonathan Benett is the technical director for Digital Government Solutions at Adobe.