Federal Agencies Advised to Hire Younger Workers

     WASHINGTON (CN) – With nearly a third of the federal workforce eligible to retire in the next year, government staffing directors and senators urged agencies Thursday to work on reaching out to millennials.
     Without appealing to millennials, a loosely defined generation that generally includes people born between the mid-1980s and early 2000s, government agencies could face gaps in leadership as older generations fall out of the workforce, said Robert Goldenkoff, director of strategic issues at the Government Accountability Office.
     With millennials making up just 16 percent of the federal workforce, agencies need to look at how to get the next generation of workers on board, Goldenkoff said.
     “The large percentage of federal employees eligible for retirement creates both an opportunity and a challenge for federal agencies,” he said.
     At a Thursday hearing before the Senate Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management Subcommittee, senators and representatives from the GAO and the Office of Personnel Management pointed to the long hiring process for federal jobs and the perception of a rigid, impersonal work environment as reasons millennial workers are turned off to working within the federal government.
     “Whether or not this is true, it is the perception federal agencies must overcome or address in order to attract millennials into the workforce,” Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., said.
     As Lankford put it, a person looking for a job driving a forklift at a federal facility might have to wait as long as three months before hearing back from the government about their application, while they could get the same job at Home Depot in a matter of days.
     Some of the problems with the federal hiring process are unavoidable, such as the lengthy, rigorous background checks prospective government workers must undergo before coming on board, according to Mark Reinhold, chief human capital officer for the Office of Personnel Management.
     “I think it’s important to recognize that there are several features of our system that make it difficult, for better or for worse,” Reinhold said.
     But other issues with attracting good federal employees can change, the agency representatives agreed.
     Reinhold held up improvements to the USA Jobs website as a positive change to how agencies can recruit younger workers. After Reinhold explained the improvements, such as making it mobile friendly, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., jokingly compared the site to Match.com.
     The pathways internship program, which targets college students for temporary work in federal agencies with the possibility of keeping them on as full-time employees if they meet certain standards, has also been a boon for government hiring, Reinhold said.
     But Goldenkoff said other problems, such as the perception among young workers that federal jobs are unrewarding and static, are harder to address, and changing the perception must come from the top of an agency.
     Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security, bragged to senators about her agency’s efforts to understand the things that make their workers happy.
     From periodic interviews that ask employees “what makes them get up in the morning,” to the undercover-boss tour Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson recently undertook at the Transportation Security Administration, Bailey said her agency has been able to improve the working experience of its employees.
     She said listening to employees and making the changes they recommend can help make working for the federal government seem more attractive to the employees who will make up an agency’s future workforce.
     “Many of these things don’t require money, a lot of these things just actually require paying attention to the small things in life that the employees really want,” Bailey said.

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