How to Make Federal Jobs More Attractive For a New Generation of Employees

The government is outmatched in the battle for talent.

Recently, for government workers under 30, the Texas state auditor reported a 38 percent turnover rate.

Additionally, 38 percent of state and local government agencies surveyed in 2021 reported that their retirement-eligible staff is expediting retirement plans, the highest rate since the survey’s inception in 2009.

Like the rest of the workforce, government employees are also getting older. Like other crises, mass retirement in the US public sector brings both opportunity and challenge.

On the one hand, the government must convince hordes of talented people to work in the public sector rather than pursue more lucrative opportunities in the private sector. At the same time, the upcoming exodus offers a rare opportunity to raise the standard of government workers.

Unfortunately, federal agencies are failing to attract young people when it might be most crucial to do so.

However, there are many more opportunities today than twenty or forty years ago, and more and more young people are choosing to work for nonprofit organizations and consulting firms to satisfy their humanitarian impulses.

Given these choices, the question is whether they believe that government can be a force for good and a place where they can use their passion for doing good to change people’s lives.

What can federal agencies do to lure more young people to the public sector and encourage them to stick around once they are there? It is vital to get to the root of what motivates young people to work to understand this.

Understand That How People Work Has Changed Significantly in the Last Few Years

The labor force has seen a significant transition over the past 20 years—first gradually, then suddenly, as the pandemic reinforced pre-existing patterns. The what, where, and when of work are all transforming. In addition, a change in worker attitudes is restructuring the labor force as Generation Z replaces retiring baby boomers. As such, there has been a significant change in what employees expect from their relationship with their employer.

We are currently witnessing a truly unprecedented change in the labor force. The US Department of Labor announced the highest number of job changes or resignations in November 2021, when 4.5 million people (or roughly 3 percent of all workers) did so.

The option to “work from anywhere” and gig employment are both booming, with the gig economy expected to rise by 33 percent in 2020 and create 2 million additional freelance workers.

Additionally, even though automation is replacing some regular occupations, there is a continuing need for specialized laborers: There were over 10.9 million job opportunities as of December 2021 or nearly two vacancies for every job applicant.

These changes are impacting both the public and private sectors. In response, businesses have raised salaries, provided more flexible work schedules, and emphasized employees’ well-being, particularly regarding professional and technical expertise.

The government is also changing. Since the pandemic, it has significantly boosted its use of WFH and hybrid work arrangements. But when it comes to giving employees essential components of what they are searching for—and finding—it has frequently been less proactive than the private sector. It needs to be changed if government organizations want to attract and recruit the best young talent.

What Government Organizations Can Do To Attract Young Workers

The following are some of the most important things that young people expect from their potential employers, which serve as a blueprint for federal agencies to attract a new generation of federal employees.

Flexible Work

Federal Gen X and Gen Z employees want flexibility in their schedules, locations, and methods of communication. With the widespread adoption of modern technology in government agencies, workers feel more confident about fulfilling their job responsibilities in more ways than before, as recent reports demonstrate an increase in the number of civil servants quitting their jobs for other government positions that permit more remote work.

Flexible work has become a key retention factor for federal workers who worked remotely or in a hybrid workplace during the pandemic.

Gen X workers may want flexibility regarding where and when they work to support their general well-being.

Because many Gen Z federal employees started their careers during the pandemic, they have only ever done remote or hybrid work. They anticipate flexible work and consider it a sign that their superiors value and trust them.

Leaders who encourage or demand regular office attendance should meticulously build a positive work environment, communicate clearly why federal employees must be physically present, and show them how to make the most of their time.

Also, young people are unlikely to stay put in toxic work culture as they need more patience for workplaces where unethical behaviors are commonplace, show no regard for coworkers, and where leaders make insufficient attempts to promote inclusivity, equity, and diversity. According to a recent study, a toxic workplace environment is 10.4 times more likely to cause attrition than poor pay.

Purpose and Impact

Workers are becoming more and more interested in careers that matter. Making a significant contribution to society was listed by 54 percent of survey participants as an essential personal factor when choosing a profession. In comparison, 53 percent preferred a position that prioritized helping others.

It should be great news for the government, where the mission is frequently important. However, there are several opportunities for young people looking for purpose-driven work in both the charitable and for-profit sectors.

Government should enhance its reputation as an employer to recruit top talent, especially among young people entering the workforce.

Federal agencies should develop their brands and highlight the innovative and significant jobs they conduct. It can educate them about the wide range of positions, opportunities for federal professional development, and government service experiences while also speaking to the purpose-driven side of the workforce.

They should also personalize the non-transactional, interpersonal aspects of work so that employees can choose the areas where they find value and the direction they wish to go in their careers.

Clear career routes for various professions and potential lateral moves can assist new or prospective federal employees in visualizing their progression or federal professional development within the organization.

For example, one tool that might assist individuals in exploring their possible career route in Cybersecurity is the Cyber Career Pathways tool, which the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency recently introduced. It comprises 52 duties, each including a description of the position and the required level of expertise.

Agencies should think beyond the necessary skill sets when deciding if a candidate is suitable for a position. They should consider things like the alignment of preferences and actions. Strong matches can result in increased output, job satisfaction, and the eventual creation of a new type of government employee.

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Gig employment is also rising, with two million additional gig workers expected in the United States by 2020. The number of independent workers increased by 34 percent from 2020 to 51 million in 2021. This entrepreneurial attitude also applies to salaried employees who seek greater agency, freedom, and opportunity in their work environments.

Even though many employees might not leave their jobs to launch their businesses, they look for chances to be more creative at work.

Stability is something that many existing public sector or federal employees cherish. Therefore employers should keep providing it. However, less emphasis on stability without taking steps to increase dynamism and innovation in the workplace or develop shorter-term career paths/opportunities could turn off younger people.

In enhancing job satisfaction, continuous learning and skill improvement play an outsized role for many workers (especially Gen Z and millennials).

In an Udemy survey, 80 percent of workers responded that having more opportunities for learning and growth would increase their sense of engagement at work.

Even organizations require new competencies and skills. The objectives of developing new competencies to fill specific skill shortages within the organization and enhancing an organization’s appeal to job seekers by providing learning and federal professional development opportunities can be achieved simultaneously through investments in upskilling and training programs.

The government is facing enormous challenges requiring the best workforce possible. Therefore, it must recognize the need to make government work appealing to young people who represent the future of the workforce.

Federal agencies should adapt their talent management strategies to the new way of working to hire the best and brightest people who can create and deliver unique solutions for today’s most pressing public problems.

Leadership & Management
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