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Agencies’ best tool in closing talent gaps: Diversity, equity and inclusion

COMMENTARY | By keeping DEI at the heart of recruitment and retention strategies, government leaders can address some of the complex challenges our country faces day in and out.

While America’s public sector labor market is experiencing rapid change due to ongoing societal shifts and evolving skill requirements, shifting workforce dynamics have been at play for a long time. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, workers in the U.S. today are older, more diverse, and better educated, and while the job market is expanding, employers are struggling to hire and retain skilled talent across all industries, including government.

This comes at a time that federal agencies are working to build a more diverse workforce to serve their constituents equitably, reach diverse populations and address real and potential biases. As governments advance their efforts around diversity, equity and inclusion, leaders are working to achieve tangible and meaningful outcomes that positively impact people, communities, and our country at large.

A diverse workforce benefits government agencies, helping to improve decision-making, engagement, and innovation, and bringing to the table unique opinions and perspectives on critical issues. Yet, agencies often struggle to make this a priority. Below are three areas where leaders can foster more inclusivity, diversity, and equal opportunity in recruitment and retention, as well as in the c-suite.  

In Hiring Efforts

The Chamber estimates there are nearly 168 million people in the labor force today, and that number is expected to grow to nearly 170 million over the next seven years. Government can tap into this growing labor force by widening access to public sector jobs through skills-based hiring which can attract those who are “skilled through alternative routes,” such as technology training, community college, or prior work experience, and provide a pathway into public sector careers.

Some states have already begun to implement this hiring practice and are reaping the benefits. In Maryland, removing the requirement for formal education for more than half of its 38,000 roles has led to a 41% increase in new government hires that don’t have a college degree and a 14% increase in overall the number of state employees hired. This skills-based approach is helping Maryland and other states grow the talent pool in a tight labor market.

In Retention

It’s not just about finding and hiring talented workers but keeping them. In order to grow an agency’s workforce, it’s imperative for managers to prioritize onboarding, training and upskilling opportunities for their employees, along with providing supportive communities for them to collaborate with peers. Once a candidate is hired based on their skills and potential aptitude to succeed in a role, it’s important to provide training that focuses on helping them succeed in their specific position.

With a rapidly evolving technology landscape, prioritizing peer support, upskilling and reskilling can arm employees with the tools they need to do their jobs well.

In Leadership

Any major government talent program focused on long-term success needs support from the top. Organizational enablers, whether chief HR officers, chief DE&I officers or others, are needed to ensure equitable opportunities are provided to workers and that the environment remains inclusive for all. 

Installing leadership specifically dedicated to the success of these initiatives is one strategy to help ensure DEI programs remain at the forefront of agency decision making. For example, Austin, Texas, hired its first chief equity officer to play a crucial role in creating the capital city’s first equity assessment tool. Today, Austin’s equity team works with 42 city departments to monitor and improve the assessment process. By prioritizing DEI initiatives, government agencies are better positioned to implement more programs that support employees from all backgrounds, abilities and skillsets and encourage them to thrive and grow in the workforce.

By keeping DEI at the heart of their agencies’ recruitment and retention strategies, government leaders can continue to build a workforce that is representative of today’s society – and help address some of the complex challenges our country faces day in and out. In doing this, they can also prepare their agencies to execute on some of the other priorities and trends that can help make them even more productive, agile and innovative.  

Shrupti Shah is a public policy and performance management specialist with more than 25 years of experience in the public and private sectors. She led the team that advised the Executive Office of the President on the President’s Management Agenda.

At Deloitte, she is the leader of the Behavioral Insights practice, which helps government agencies design, develop, and test behavior change interventions. Shrupti’s experience and advice has been sought by governments, the ILO, World Bank Group, and OECD. She has advised governments on developing outcome-oriented strategies and the monitoring and managing performance in nine countries.