4 tips for succession planning in the public sector

succession planning

Younger generations are sweeping into the workforce in great numbers. Having surpassed baby boomers as the nation's largest living generation, millennials will eventually make up 75 percent of the total workforce over the next 10 years. Generation Z, the generation following the millennials, is estimated to be even larger in size, according to Pew Research. As one Society for Human Resource Management article notes, the generation is strongly drawn to the technological sophistication of prospective employers.

With the reality of this shift in employment priorities on the horizon, organizations in all sectors are struggling with succession planning—the ability to attract and retain the next generation of employees. Drawing valuable talent is imperative to the growth and health of any organization, including the public sector. While it has become commonplace, if not expected, for private employers to go to great lengths to appeal to talent, federal, state, and other government agencies operating with more limited budgets must explore other options.

Making government employment attractive

In a recent Partnership for Public Service survey of college students, only 5.7 percent listed federal service as their ideal career, and even fewer said the same for state and local government jobs. This foreshadows unfilled positions, which will be increasingly problematic as the federal workforce builds toward a retirement wave in coming years. In fact, more than a third of career federal employees reached retirement eligibility in September 2017, up from 14 percent in 2012.

While facts affirm the necessity of recruiting younger talent, government agencies are not able to approach these changes as quickly as the private sector. A recent PwC study noted that "the companies that have already been the most successful in attracting talented millennials—Google and Apple among them—are naturally innovative employers who are never restrained by ‘how things used to be done.'" Government bureaucracy, by its very nature, moves much more intentionally.

In creating thriving corporate cultures, technology companies have developed a blueprint for what constitutes an attractive employment opportunity for millennials.

How did these companies accomplish this? And how can this blueprint be used to help federal, state, and local governments?

Here are four realistic changes that government agencies can make to attract millennial employees and plan for future successors.

  1. Be practical and candid.

    Instead of portraying your agency as something it is not, focus on the unique attributes of the work and be completely transparent with applicants about what to expect from that position. If your agency has made workplace adjustments (e.g., office environment, remote work option), highlight these strengths.

    Do not promise what you cannot deliver. Efforts to pander to this audience will be perceived as forced and will likely repel the applicants your organization seeks to attract. Be upfront with what you are able to offer, and emphasize the positive aspects of civil service to portray the work in the best possible light.

  2. Build talent from scratch.

    Working in government provides employees a broad network of mentors and career opportunities, which can be major selling points for many millennials looking to advance their careers. Consider borrowing a tactic from the tech industry by providing direct paths from internship to full-time employment.

    Not only do internships allow the organization to screen the candidate's performance over a period of time, they show both parties exactly what to expect, which goes a long way toward establishing a long and mutually beneficial relationship. Allowing interns to rotate between departments to see how different agencies operate provides context for future engagements.

  3. Demonstrate the passion behind public service.

    As one PwC study states, millennials want their work to have a purpose. They want to contribute something to the world, and they want to be proud of their employer. Coincidentally, one of the top requirements millennials have on their list when seeking employment is the potential to provide value and bring passion to the organization—precisely the heart of public service.

    "There is little public discussion of mission and/or the value of public service," a study by the Alliance to Transform State Government Operations found. "There is much to suggest that [members of Generation X] and millennials have a strong predisposition for mission, but government isn’t tapping into it."

    While the private sector may be able to offer nap pods and free snacks, government employers can offer the intrinsic sense of purpose and passion that millennials pursue when choosing a career. Proof: One Office of Personnel Management study discovered that 86 percent of federal employees born after 1980 find their work to be important, and millennial government employees are the happiest of any generation.

    Providing opportunities to encourage and support the passion and purpose behind public service can go a long way with a next-generation workforce.

  4. Leverage tech channels.

    Government agencies are working to address the technology gap between their aging current systems and more advanced private sector technologies.

    Not only is this to keep valued technology-focused employees on their teams—no forward-looking employee prefers to work with outdated tools—but a focus on technology helps teams become more productive and effective.

    Cloud technology is a perfect example of an innovation that provides a more appealing and productive work environment for millennial and younger employees. By providing an easy, secure environment for employees to work remotely and locally, these technologies help eliminate administrative headaches associated with office jobs by allowing online shared workspaces and simple collaboration.

Government agencies do not need to completely change who they are to attract the next generation of employees. Take a hard look at what needs updating and what you bring to the table. Know the worth your agency has and how that speaks to millennials.

By capturing this message, government employment can become a highly sought-after career path for millennials and further the future generation of the workforce.

Download this white paper to get the full picture on the importance of a streamlined enterprise cloud platform for your government agency.Then find out how Wdesk can help your agency achieve the time-saving efficiencies millennials need to work effectively.

Mike Rost

About the author

Mike Rost is a key contributor to product strategy at Workiva and works with business leaders in the areas of financial reporting and compliance. With more than 25 years of experience assisting organizations using technology to optimize business processes, Mike has an extensive background in finance and accounting, corporate performance management, and GRC technology. Mike was a founding member of XBRL International with involvement in the XBRL initiative dating back to 1999. He has also been active in industry associations, including the Open Compliance and Ethics Group (OCEG) and the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). Mike has a bachelor's degree in economics and an MBA in marketing and finance from the University of Minnesota.