The Challenge of Building the Workforce Government Needs

Monday, October 6, 2014

State and local governments are hiring again, but they’re having difficulty finding – and retaining – the right people. In a recent Governing article, Center for State and Local Government Excellence President and CEO Elizabeth K. Kellar asks if governments have a people problem.

In the Center for State and Local Government Excellence’s latest annual workforce survey, government human resource managers cite staff development, succession planning, employee morale, and retaining staff for core services as their top issues. “Those issues were rated as greater concerns than compensation and health-care and retirement-plan costs. What’s going on?” Kellar asks. “Some of the problem is the mismatch between the skills of people looking for work and the jobs that need filling. Whether governments are looking for finance experts, managers, engineers or public-health professionals, they face stiff competition from the private sector.”

In addition, government workers are retiring now that the recession is over (22% of retirement-eligible employees accelerated their retirement date in 2013, according to the survey), and it is particularly difficult to fill senior positions. A number of governments are also relying increasingly on temporary or contract workers, in part to manage overall compensation costs. (In 2013, benefits made up 20% of employer costs.) And so on.

Keller says: “Government has many advantages over the private sector, but must sell itself effectively and adapt to current worker preferences. Many young people want to work for an organization where they can make a difference in the world. If governments can make a better case for the rewards of a public-service career – and write better job ads – they should be able to attract more of these millennials.”

She suggests addressing the situation by assessing who is working for the organization today (including gaps in skill sets and talent), investing in employees by helping them develop new skills (which also shows workers that they are valued), and providing flexible work practices.