Here are three things agencies can do to appeal more to these young, tech-savvy workers.
Tech giants like Apple and Google may excel at attracting young workers, but the federal government lags when it comes to attracting Generation Z tech talent. Only 3% of tech employees working for the government in March 2018 were younger than 30, and only 14% of government tech employees were older than 60. As next-generation technologists chase their dream jobs at Facebook and Google—where the median employee age is 28 and 30, respectively—the gap will only worsen.
A tech talent gap also means the U.S. government could fail to carry out its vital role of serving citizens while talent dwindles and security threats mount. Because Gen Z, born in the mid to late 1990s, is tech-savvy and was raised in a rapidly transforming digital world, its technologists are primed to deal with the tech sphere of the future, one in which exponential change and a host of sophisticated cybersecurity threats are certain.
Danger already looms at the local level, with cities across the United States falling victim to ransomware attacks. And because we spend more time online than ever before, the government must safely continue to move toward the digital sphere. Bringing government functions online will save time and money, but it will also require a new crop of tech-literate workers to spearhead the transformation.
To attract this next class of technologists, government organizations will need to make some changes. First, they should dispel any preconceived notions they may have about Gen Z workers. For instance, there’s a perception that younger technologists are more likely to job-hop and won’t stick around. But one recent study actually shows that members of this generation don’t tend to enter jobs with intentions to leave them quickly; 65% of Gen Zers also said they view their jobs as key parts of their identities.
Don’t discount Gen Zers because you think they’ll jump ship—they’re a viable group to consider, and the federal government needs their talents. Here are three ways the government can appeal more to these young, tech-savvy workers and recruit them for their ranks:
1. Look at nontraditional pipelines.
Traditional educational pathways aren’t producing tech talent quickly enough to satisfy employer demands. Similarly, we know a growing number of young people don’t have careers that align with their four-year degrees. Almost half of younger Millennials say their degree is “very or somewhat unimportant” to their job, and a surprising number of Gen Zers skip traditional college entirely.
To fill its ranks, the government must expand its scope to candidates who decided to take a different path after high school or college. For example, look at IBM’s apprenticeship program built to bring more inclusivity to tech. IBM registered a 12- to 18-month program with the Department of Labor to train new hires with nontraditional backgrounds through 200-300 hours of instruction and hands-on experience.
While IBM doesn’t guarantee placements in full-time jobs at IBM after the apprenticeship, it has hired on many apprentices. IBM has also reached out to traditionally untapped communities with programs explicitly focused on veterans and people in lower-income areas.
Government departments in need of tech skills could develop similar programs to teach interested candidates how to fulfill specific roles. Candidates who don’t get hired full time would still have the apprenticeship experience to put on their résumés, and those who do get hired will already be well-trained for the position.
2. Promote your purpose.
Younger workers also want to make a positive difference in the world. Government organizations need to start marketing to the demands of these young people searching for purpose and passion.
It’s not that government agencies don’t have an important purpose. Working for the Housing and Urban Development Department, for instance, certainly gives government employees a chance to improve lives. Yet government employees’ engagement levels remain lower than the private sector’s, and many Americans under 30 mistrust the government.
Gen Zers have seen how bureaucracy can impede progress on key issues such as gun violence and human rights. It’s not a stretch to believe they could enact more change in the private sector. To get the attention of Gen Zers looking to make a difference, government agencies should highlight the impact of the work employees do and position the job as mission-driven.
3. Focus on diversity.
Agencies can also attract more Gen Z workers by placing importance on diversity initiatives. Younger workers want to work for organizations that value inclusivity and a variety of different voices and opinions when making decisions.
To get younger workers on board, show them that you value diversity with initiatives to support workers from different backgrounds. For example, one often overlooked barrier is transportation—many workers rely on public transit to get to work. Some companies have taken responsibility for creating more transportation options for employees, attracting a more diverse workforce. In Austin, Texas, for instance, tech company Cirrus Logic decided to move from a suburban area to a downtown location, evaluating the limitations of doing so in the process. The company realized not everyone had the means to commute to the new location in private vehicles, so it implemented reimbursements for those using light-rail and eventually created a free shuttle line for employees.
Government agencies can evaluate potential barriers to more inclusive hiring and develop solutions to fix those problems. Showing potential candidates that you strive for a more inclusive workforce is a great way to highlight your focus on diversity.
If agencies show a willingness to hire nontraditional candidates and offer them the opportunity to make a difference and be a part of a diverse and inclusive group, the government won’t just be a step ahead in getting an appropriate share of promising technologists, it will also be better positioned to fulfill its obligations.
Jeff Mazur is the executive director for LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization aiming to fill the gap in tech talent by matching companies with trained individuals.
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