May 02 2018

How the Public Sector Can Attract Millennials to Build the Workforce of the Future

Everything from internships to infrastructure can entice the younger generation to government IT.

The public sector IT workforce is headed toward a drastic change. As much of the current workforce heads toward retirement, 75 percent of the U.S. workforce will be made up of millennials by the year 2025, according to the Brookings Institute.

As of yet, however, the public sector hasn’t been able to attract the younger generation workforce it will need. Just 27 percent of the government workforce is made up of millennials, versus 38 percent in the private sector, the Center for Digital Government reports. With Gen-Xers making up 48 percent of the public-sector workforce, it’s clear that unless younger generations jump into government IT soon, attracting talent could be an even greater issue for state and local CIOs in years to come.

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Restructure the Workplace to Attract Millennial Talent

To make a priority of enticing the millennial workforce into public service may mean overhauling how state and local governments have traditionally approached training and hiring IT talent. It could also require changes in workplace culture and even underlying tech infrastructure.

“The organization of the future is one with a digital mindset, with the private sector taking the lead in implementing new tools to attract and retain talent,” says Celeste O’Dea senior manager of public sector application strategy and business development for Oracle in an Op-Ed at Government Technology. “Government agencies are beginning to embrace similar tactics and are adopting modern workforce technologies that are changing the way they manage employees, from recruitment through retirement.”

To make these necessary changes, O’Dea recommends four things:

  1. Emphasize Public Service — Millennials want to give back. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 94 percent of their age group want to use their skills to “benefit a cause.” Government agencies offer this chance and therefore CIOs should emphasize the way as government entities they are benefiting their communities. “Creative marketing tactics could include improving an agency’s social media presence and modern, engaging websites, using ‘meaningful work’ messaging in all recruiting and application processes,” O’Dea advises.

  2. Go Mobile and Use Human Capital Management — Have you heard that millennials spend a lot of time on their phones? Whether a stereotype or not, there’s no doubt that millennials are more likely to job hunt on their smartphones, which means that being mobile compatible is a must for government organizations seeking to recruit. Moreover, O’Dea suggests using human capital management technologies to better match candidates with job opportunities and smooth over recruiting efforts.

  3. Keep All Employee Data in One Place — “Updating and maintaining employee data in a central location allows for real-time assessment and data insight that could help redeploy an agency’s workforce while also giving employees new growth opportunities,” says O’Dea. Centralized data can help to identify employee skills that can be used on new projects or in other branches of an agency. Moreover, it can help to reveal where younger employees might need more training.

  4. Offer a User-Friendly Experience — Interfacing with government entities can be frustrating for citizens, but artificial intelligence, such as those that back chatbots, is already at work to turn the tide on citizen interactions. Atlanta is already using a chatbot to streamline its 311 system and offer citizens access to answers and reporting capabilities around-the-clock. Other local governments are also using the tech to answer commonly asked questions, increasing citizen satisfaction while cutting back on staff workloads. “These technologies could also make the hiring process more candidate-centric, with chatbots putting a more user-friendly face on applying for a government job,” says O’Dea.

States Plan to Pull a Younger Workforce

So how are states putting these suggestions into practice?

In Nevada, where 40 percent of the IT workforce is headed for retirement by 2020, Nevada’s CIO Shanna Rahming told StateTech in a Q&A last year that the state is looking to launch a student internship program as a way to train IT talent in the public sector.

The internship program, she hopes, will not only “help our pipeline for potential employees when they graduate, but also bring fresh ideas and new knowledge into our state IT shops.”

A 2016 survey by Microsoft found that 93 percent of millennials value technology when choosing an employer. Recognizing this, Hawaii CIO Todd Nacapuy revealed to StateTech that the state is aggressively pursuing new IT applicants, both through a partnership with LinkedIn and by overhauling its underlying IT to no longer rely on in-house solutions, but instead to focus on commercial off-the-shelf software.

“If Hawaii, being the largest employer on the island with approximately 80,000 people, if we’re able to train, develop and push people’s IT careers forward on COTS [commercial-off-the-shelf] solutions, they can then leave the state and work for commercial entities,” Nacapuy says.

This understanding that a CIO is helping an individual build a career as opposed to simply filling a need in the IT team makes all the difference when it comes to attracting talent, Nacapuy says.

“I’m not just creating a job for an individual, I’m trying to create a career for an individual, and that’s the biggest solution.”

This article is part of StateTech's CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.


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