Economy & Budget

America’s public sector has a big problem — it’s not getting any Millennials

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This may sound alarmist, but the data speaks for itself — the number of federal government employees under the age of 30 is now around 7 percent, the lowest it has been in nearly a decade. Millennials just aren’t looking at government as a sector of career interest anymore. Couple this with a swell of Millennials in the U.S. workforce, which is set to hit 75 percent by 2020, and the rate of boomers entering retirement, and we realize how high the stakes are — government needs to get its game back, and fast.   

Why is this happening? It’s not that Millennials don’t want to serve their communities or their country. We see that young people between the age of 18 and 36 desire jobs that have a social impact or element of giving back to the community. In fact, 94 percent are interested in using their skills to benefit a social cause.

{mosads}So what then? Nothing is more frustrating to Millennials than antiquated technology — legacy systems built for a former era. This isn’t just because Millennials are digital natives and have evolved with technology over time — they actually need to work with cutting edge technologies in order to remain competitive in the job market.


And let’s be clear, Millennials no doubt have noticed that most government agencies have barely changed in terms of day-to-day operations. Over the last few decades, under the pressures of competition, nearly every other industry has had to change how they operate in order to survive. Sheltered from these pressures, however, the public sector has languished.

By resisting change in this environment, the public sector has been its own worst enemy. And now, without a robust pipeline of talent, the government risks lagging even further behind in an increasingly digital world. The future of government depends on developing the next generation of public servants and leaders — but to attract and retain the most promising young minds, the government must reinvent itself, embracing the collaborative and flexible environment tech-savvy Millennials crave.

Today, technology and public sectors meet in Washington to discuss some of these big challenges and ideate on short and long term solutions. Here are some of the key takeaways:

Say goodbye to antiquated technology.

Millennials expect current technologies, both in and out of the workplace. It’s no surprise that technology plays a pivotal role during their job hunts, and an even greater role in their long-term career satisfaction. According to a Microsoft survey, 93 percent of millennials cited modern technology as one of the most important aspects of their workplace.

Yet, U.S. agencies spend nearly 75 percent of their IT budgets maintaining legacy systems and technology for their business processes — and only 25 percent procuring new systems.

The implications behind these statistics are overwhelming. For example, the Department of the Treasury still runs on assembly language code — a computer language first created in the 1950’s. Even more shocking, the Department of Defense still uses floppy disks to coordinate the operations behind the nation’s nuclear forces. As long as this remains the status quo, the nation’s best talent will not only turn, but run, away from government positions.  

Dated software constricts young employees who expect complete authority over where, when and how they work. By shifting to a cloud system, government agencies can offer the flexibility to work remotely, securely and more efficiently than ever.

This technology seamlessly connects systems across departments, catering to millennials’ desire to collaborate and communicate with coworkers on a more intuitive and user-friendly platform.

Help employees help themselves.

Federal News Radio reports that most millennials who have a passion for public service would prefer to stay in government — as long as they have opportunities to develop their skills, careers and benefits. One way to accomplish this is through feedback and mentorship.

Not surprisingly, Millennials want feedback 50 percent more often than other employees, yet only 46 percent feel that their managers are currently delivering on their expectations. So, what does this mean for the public sector, and how can supervisors ensure that their Millennial staff is receiving the support needed to cultivate long-term career satisfaction?

High-tech training programs, whether conducted in-person or remote, are one way to bridge the gap between existing skills and professional goals. These programs provide a mechanism from Gen Y workers to hone in on their passions, while receiving input and support from the senior level employees that they look up to.

Stop hiring like it’s 1999.   

The public sector is still hiring like it did 20 years ago, and this too needs to change. Beyond developing existing talent and hiring fresh thinkers, we need to identify new skills that are needed for the future of work.

By leveraging digital tools to find and attract the right federal workers, we can find, place and develop employees in positions they enjoy and even excel at, and maximize people’s potential, while promoting innovation and advancement within the organization

But, attracting Millennial workers is only the first step to solving this generational gap. Retaining young workers adds an entirely new level of complexity. According to Federal News Radio, only 39 percent of federal employees under the age of 35 see themselves as having a long-term career in the government. Using technology to place workers in the right departments, and in the correct roles, helps ensure worker’s happiness – and is the first step towards increased retention.

According Deloitte, globally 70 percent of government officials consider their organizations’ digital capabilities well behind those of the private sector. It doesn’t have to be that way. By making the right technology decisions, the public sector can accommodate Millennials’ demands and compete head-on with the private sector.

Kevin Curry is the senior vice president of Global Public Sector, Infor.

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Demographics Demography E-Government Generation Millennials

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