1. An Aging Workforce

As a 2017 Politico analysis of the federal workforce points out, America’s government is getting old. Between retirement-age employees remaining on the job beyond their projected retirement dates and the myriad challenges of attracting younger workers to public service careers, the average government employee is becoming a lot more gray than the rest of the population. In fact, just 17 percent of federal workers are under 35 years of age (notable because nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers are), and more than one in four are older than 55. In short, the government has struggled to recruit and retain younger employees.

As professor and public policy expert Donald F. Kettl explains, “It’s not so much a matter that old people are stupid and young people are smart—It’s that smart agencies develop a plan for a [talent] pipeline. The federal government’s biggest problem is it’s not very good at pipeline planning.”

2. Stale Recruiting Techniques

According to the 2018 State and Local Government Workforce Trends report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, the top workforce issue (among 20 reported issues) cited by public human resource professionals is the “recruitment and retention of qualified personnel with needed skills for public service” (82%).

Unfortunately, while the need for improved recruiting is widely acknowledged, it doesn’t look like government-sector talent acquisition techniques or strategies have caught up with modern times. Consider how state and local employers responded when asked about their most successful recruitment practices:   

What recruitment practices are most successful in reaching qualified candidates? (n=311)
Online Job Advertisements 84%
Employee Referrals 51%
Government Websites 49%
Social Media 46%
Job Fairs 21%
Internships/Apprenticeships 20%
State/Local Newsletters 19%
Other 7%
National Newsletters 5%
Video Campaigns 4%
Don’t know 3%
Conferences 2%

While it is encouraging to see employee referrals (51%) and social media recruitment (46%) among the top-four practices, many employers seem to be putting the majority of their eggs in the job board advertisements basket.

3. A Not-So-Great Reputation for Compensation

In an October 2018 blog post for GovLoop, City of Boston special project manager Susanna Ronalds-Hannon advises public-sector talent acquisition teams to overcome their reputations for less-than-competitive compensation by emphasizing the unique advantages of working in public service, which is an employer-branding story if we’ve ever heard one.

“It’s no secret that to work in government you may have to pass on higher salaries and potentially better perks than we’re equipped to offer,” says Ronalds-Hannon. “However, what distinguishes us from our competitors is the opportunity to hold influence in the public sphere. Our candidates are drawn to public service because they want to make a positive impact on the lives of city residents. While possible in the private sector, by working for the City of Boston you have the opportunity to directly impact city services and participate in policy and programmatic work to address issues ranging from snow removal to homelessness.”

If you’re a government-sector recruiter who would like more information on how Yello can help you overcome your specific talent-acquisition challenges, please take a moment to check out some of the following resources.