How Smart Governments Are Competing for Talent

To attract and retain employees in a competitive market, they're focusing on succession planning and leadership development.
February 21, 2018
job candidates sitting
By Elizabeth K. Kellar  |  Contributor
Senior Fellow with the Center for State and Local Government Excellence and director of public policy for the International City/County Management Association

As younger workers replace baby boomers in local and state governments, the question becomes, "Will they stay?" Both retirements and the number of workers leaving government for other employers were higher last year than the year before, according to the 2017 workforce trends report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE).

What are leading governments doing to recruit and retain the people they need in today's competitive market for talent? For starters, they are giving much greater attention to developing a pool of employees who can become qualified for key positions in the organization, rather than identifying an heir apparent for a job.

Take Sunnyvale, Calif., one of three governments studied in another 2017 SLGE report, on succession planning. Even brand-new Sunnyvale employees are asked to file a career-development plan with human resources. The plan serves as a guide for employees and their supervisors to identify classes, experiences and other professional-development opportunities that line up with the individual's career goals.

The city's turnover rates have been inching up over the past two years due to low unemployment in the competitive Silicon Valley market. To attract and retain talent, Sunnyvale has sought to increase employee satisfaction in both tangible and intangible ways. Its goal is to have a culture where employees can grow and make significant contributions. It offers alternative work schedules and flexibility to participate in professional-development programs.

Hennepin County, Minn., also is focused on building the workforce of tomorrow to address an increase in turnover rates, including retirements. By 2025, the county anticipates a turnover rate of 30 percent for general employees and more than 40 percent for directors, managers and supervisors.

In addition to assessing whether its employee-benefit package supports its goal to remain an attractive employer, the county has reviewed and revised job descriptions to remove barriers to attracting capable applicants. To develop leaders at all levels and beef up the county's talent pool, the county offers programs geared to new hires and entry-level employees, as well as leadership development. Its New Employee Academy brings employees from different departments together three times in their first year to help them build relationships with each other as they go through their onboarding and learning experiences with HR.

Building a leadership pipeline is the goal of LEAD Tennessee as well. Each year, 130 employees from all state agencies are selected for a 12-month leadership-development experience. The state's approach to succession planning supports a "grow-our-own" philosophy by creating pathways to advancement and building bench strength to ensure that there are qualified people to compete for vacancies. Managers also conduct periodic "stay interviews" with employees to discuss what is going well, what challenges they have encountered and what the manager can do to help overcome these challenges.

Each of these governments want to be seen as an employer of choice, known for investing in their employees and a sustained commitment to help them learn and grow. They see succession planning as part of a comprehensive HR strategy that helps employees achieve their career goals and helps employers ensure that they have the talent they need to carry out their mission.

With the pace of retirements, a shrinking labor pool, shifting demographics and growing competition for talent, all governments need to bring a sense of urgency to these workforce challenges.