Government recruiting for a post-baby boomer future

Since the beginning of the Millennium, much has been written about 8,000 to 10,000 baby boomers reaching retirement age. Speculation about the workplace impacts of the “silver tsunami” focuses on potential shortages of skilled labor, knowledge transfer and how organizations can appeal to a new generation of workers.
Americans are working longer. This, coupled with retirements deferred as a result of the Great Recession has slowed the baby boomer workplace exodus. Other factors affecting hiring needs include economy-driven organizational streamlining, technological advances and outsourcing.
Although state and local government expansion has been anemic, signs now point to baby boomer retirements building steam. A recent Center for State and Local Government Excellence survey reports 54 percent of respondents experienced an increase in retirements in 2015 compared to 10% in 2014. In the Center’s 2014 survey, it is notable that Human Resources managers cited succession planning as a top issue, ahead of health care and retirement costs.
Cultivating a post-baby boomer public service workforce
Of concern, there is evidence that public service careers are losing appeal for a growing number of people. Reasons cited include: wage stagnation; health and pension benefit reforms; and loss of the iron-clad job security formerly a hallmark of government employment.
The challenge of cultivating a post-baby boomer public service workforce is formidable. It will take thoughtful strategies, innovation and bold actions. After interacting with thousands of government agency HR professionals since 1996, we believe elements of any successful effort will include the following:

  • Government will need to reinforce the virtues and rewards of public service. This should include reiterating its purpose and sharing inspiring examples of how serving others helps to improve lives, foster community and provide a deep sense of personal and professional fulfillment.
  • Government agencies will benefit by implementing workplace values, practices and conditions that appeal to millennials and centennials. Emulating and partnering with vibrant and successful private companies is key to competing for the best talent available. Providing eager enthusiastic workers with technology tools and allowing them to operate independently and collaboratively in a flexible, project-rich environment that embraces contemporary management models will be compelling draws.
  • Government agencies must energetically market their organizations and their communities as desirable places to live and work. The best private companies work hard burnishing their brand and becoming employers of choice. City hall can ill afford to do less because the end result will determine the caliber of employee that engineers our roads, responds to a police call or handles a public health crisis.

Outreach and recruitment strategy
When recruiting top talent, government agencies should focus as much on skill sets as on education and experience. Alluring recruitment materials should be developed to include community and organizational background. Examples of major projects as well as a comprehensive accounting of the wage and benefit package should be presented. Information about career advancement pathways is important to all candidates; it reinforces a culture that values employees and facilitates a career mindset from day one.
An outreach and recruitment strategy that reflects today’s reliance on technology and mobility is essential. Private-sector businesses have a better grasp on the importance of this tool than does government. When first went live in 1996, government websites were rare and online recruiting was non-existent. Today, this government niche job board posts recruitments for thousands of state and local government agencies. A SHRM Survey on Using Social Media for Talent Acquisition published in January 2016 found 68 percent of government agencies use social media for recruitment compared to 89 percent in the private sector.
The implications for reaching the broadest talent pool are clear. Government agencies should join the two-thirds of organizations that SHRM cites as taking steps to leverage mobile recruiting. Employers wishing to target applicants who best fit their needs are increasingly turning to niche internet job boards. Finally, since much of the most coveted talent is not actively looking for employment, government recruiters should make generous use of social media outreach to engage passive candidates.

Public service remains a noble and rewarding pursuit. Governments that take the time to assess their human resource needs, create inviting work environments, enthusiastically market themselves, and harness the remarkable outreach of mobile technology and social media outreach will enjoy the greatest recruitment success.

Mark F. Weinberg has spent nearly 40 years in local government, and has performed as City Manager in communities in both California and Washington state. He currently serves as a consultant to local governments and sits on the Careers In Government, Inc. Board of the Directors.