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Public Service: Is it still a career choice?

As younger generations contemplate what their career paths will look like, public service still remains an area of interest for many college students.  But what does a career path for someone just entering the job market look like?  Author Gayle Cinquegrani wrote an article recently for Bloomberg BNA describing the new modern worker.  This persona values happiness and career development when considering their job or career choice.

The article, Workers are More Willing to Change Jobs, points out that millennials in particular who don’t find what those values they are looking for, are willing to leave to in pursuit of what really motivates them.  So how do public employers embrace this new way of thinking?  What can they do to continue to encourage careers in public service while adapting to a changing culture?

The answer requires each agency to look at their current retention strategies and will likely be different for everyone.  According to the paper, Understanding Millennials in Government, written by Peter Viechnicki of Deloitte Services, LP, governments should consider some strategies not geared towards generations, but rather lifetime milestones such as buying a car or starting a family.  There are also particular benefits that may attract younger employees like student loan repayment assistance programs.

In reality, committing to a lifelong career in public service is probably not what employees fresh out of college are prepared to do.  Viechnicki goes on to say “governments may wish to develop different recruiting and career progression strategies, which allow them [Millennials with specific skill sets] to perform public service for shorter but still meaningful stints.”  In other words, it’s better to have them for some time rather than not at all. This is where having a succession strategy or knowledge transfer plan would come into play.


Compensation among the Generations

Compensation means many things to many people.  What motivates people to want to work for the public sector, or any job really, is in the eye of the beholder.  It’s a quandary HR Managers everywhere are facing.  Some have taken a look at this by generation which seems to give a pretty accurate picture of the wants and needs of employees in different age brackets.  Although we know money is a motivator for most, there is more to compensation than just a pay check.  What drives employees to say yes to one job and no to another?  The four prominent generations in the workforce all say something a little different when it comes to compensation.

Millennials are the most talked about generation these days mainly due to the fact they are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce.  Since the average Millennial graduate is $24K in debt, money is a driver and health benefits are a must. However, they also put a high value on learning new skills because it makes them more valuable.  They may be skeptical about ever seeing a pension, or Social Security for that matter, so benefits that give them options to invest in their future are appealing. 

The Gen Xers consider themselves “stuck in the middle” between two behemoth generations according to a study done by the Pew Research Center; like being the middle child. They generally have a lot going on in their lives between children and/or aging parents and desire that work-life balance to help them keep their sanity. This could be in the form of flexible work schedules, adequate time-off policies, and easy access to amenities to support their well-being. 

Baby Boomers have begun exiting the workforce, but not as fast as it was originally anticipated mostly due to the 2008 Recession.  This generation is loyal and could potentially be convinced to stay on even if it’s a part-time or contractor role.  Like the Gen Xers, pay and flexible hours will be an incentive. It’s a way for them to continue to keep some cash flow going and still spend time doing things they would if they were retired.  Many will qualify for Medicare so health benefits aren’t always necessary.

While Traditionalists are technically past retirement age, some are still employed.  They typically feel a pride in what they do and want to continue making a difference.  Respect is a value this generation takes seriously. Though it isn’t necessarily something you can compensate on, there are ways to show respect with a reward like a plaque or gift. 

Public Service is an honorable career.  Employees, regardless of their generation, take pride in adding value in their workplace and community.  A salary and benefits provides employees with a means to function in their day-to-day life, but there’s nothing like that feeling you get when someone pats you on the back and says “You Made a Difference”.

Workforce Planning for Today… And the Future

If you are out perusing the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) site you might come across some useful information around Workforce Planning.  But when you Google “Government Workforce Planning” this is where you’ll get your best results.  Right off the bat you see links pop up for WA, MA, and CA.  So, naturally I was curious and decided to check out their sites.

My first stop was the State of Washington.  Under the State Human Resources tab there is a whole section on Workforce Planning.  Their Workforce Planning Model is broken down into four component; Issues, Goals, Objectives, & Strategies.  The goal is to hone in on the strategies that are really going to impact improving performance.  With an action plan in place, supervisors can get involved by doing some Operational Workforce Planning of their own.

Next stop, State of Massachusetts.  You can find their Workforce Planning section under HR Policies.  They have a different model from WA by which they include the action plan, but it follows a similar four-step path.  They begin with analyzing the current workforce, then identifying future workforce needs, establishing the gap between the present and future, and finally implementing solutions to address the gaps between the present and future workforce needs.  Efforts to secure institutional knowledge and develop the skills of existing employees is a top priority for the state.

Last stop is across the country to the State of California.  California keeps their Workforce Planning in a section called State Supervisors/Managers under the Dept of Human Resources site. They consider their Workforce Planning Model a phased approach:

  • Phase 1: Set the strategic direction for the Workforce Plan
  • Phase 2: Gather and analyze departmental data for the Workforce Plan
  • Phase 3: Develop the workforce strategy and plan
  • Phase 4: Implement Strategies
  • Phase 5: Evaluate the Workforce Plan

As the future remains uncertain, California is focused on matching the right people to the right jobs.  Forecasting plays an important role in their strategy so they are better prepared for what lies ahead.

Though California has a larger employee size, the problem is the same as WA, MA, and other states across the nation.  This is just a sample of the strategies put in place by states to aid in succession planning and retention efforts.  Each plan is unique to it’s state, but not so unique that others can’t glean some good ideas from each other.

Who are the 23%?

Women play a vital role in the workplace.  But did you know that Women only make up 23 percent of government roles at the state and local level“?   Through an ongoing series of podcasts, Governing reporter Mattie Quinn takes on this important task of finding out who these women are, what leadership means to them, and the difference they are making in their communities.

In 1887, Susanna Medora Salter becomes the first woman elected mayor of an American town, in Argonia, Kansas.  This “Famous First” was a major milestone for women in government and paved the way for many women thereafter.  In Quinn’s first podcast, she interviews Mayor Freeman-Wilson of Gary, IN who actually prefers to go by the name “Mayor Karen”.

Just by listening to the podcast, I had the sense this Mayor is the kind of woman that people really admire.  What drives her is the desire to bring in support and funding to build programs that help all citizens of Gary.  She goes on to talk about an initiative to tie public safety and light illumination efforts together for community restoration.  “When we  pay particular attention to the environment then it changes the incidents of crime because people feel better about where they live.”

As the interview wraps up, the topic turns towards why the need for more women in government.  Freeman-Wilson talks candidly about the natural skills and strengths women possess like being problem solvers, ability to multi-task, and always looking for the “win-win”.  “It’s not about who I am, but it’s really about how do I contribute… how do I help… how can I improve my community.”

As young women begin thinking about their careers, it’s important to know that a role in government, regardless of the level, is a viable option.  Making a difference in your community is one of them most rewarding jobs you can do.