How Government Can Be More Competitive in the Race for Talented Employees

Learn what budget-strapped agencies can do to compete for the best talent and create their workforce of the future.
Colonial Life | January 29, 2018 AT 7:00 PM

“They come here in the wintertime, and they try to draw people from our applicant pool,” says Brian Mahone with the Indianapolis Police Department.

Mahone, a recruiting supervisor for the department, says cities from hundreds or even thousands of miles away increasingly show up to Indiana job fairs, touting their warmer climates to attract top candidates.

This practice – known as employee poaching – demonstrates just how intense the hunt for skilled talent in the public sector has become as baby boomers retire. In Pennsylvania and Mississippi, for example, about a third of the workforce is eligible to retire in the next five years. In Nevada, it’s 44 percent. They will be replaced by millennials, who will comprise 75 percent of the world’s workforce by 2025.

Government agencies face an uphill climb in attracting this younger generation to civil service as some of the aspects that once made public sector jobs attractive – including defined benefit pension plans and health coverage – are being scaled back. At the same time, the private sector is upping its game with more lucrative offers, flexible work schedules and the opportunity for remote employment – all things millennials care about.

Recruiting and retaining qualified personnel is a critical issue for most state and local government leaders. According to a 2017 workforce trends survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, 91 percent of respondents said it was their top priority.

So what can budget-strapped agencies do to compete for the best talent and create their workforce of the future?

Recently, the Governing Institute and Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Company released a guide for state and local government leaders, “Building Your Public Workforce of the Future.” Through interviews with leaders throughout the country, the Institute uncovered innovative strategies and bright ideas. Among them:

  • The state of California is making it easier for candidates to find jobs. By reducing its number of job classifications from 4,000 to 3,300 and standardizing job titles among state agencies, California is simplifying its hiring process.
  • Hennepin County, Minn., is building a pipeline of skilled workers through innovative partnerships with local community and technical colleges to prepare non-traditional students for civil service jobs. As a result of this effort, the county has hired 150 people into permanent jobs in the last three years.
  • Tennessee has implemented leadership development programs and academies to groom high-potential employees for the next level of their careers.
  • The city of Hialeah, Fla., modernized and updated its benefits enrollment process to streamline enrollment, administration and communication, and boost employee participation in the benefits process. The city also offers 1-to-1 benefits counseling for employees.

    Working to customize benefits to meet the unique needs of employees, modernizing benefits administration and offering voluntary benefits to address coverage gaps are all important strategies for government to recruit and retain employees. In a recent Governing Institute survey of 167 state and local officials, 65 percent of respondents said benefits have been a critical factor in their decision to stay in the public sector, while 28 percent said benefits are a best practice for attracting and retaining employees.

  • The Folsom Police Department in California promotes work-life balance by not overburdening officers with mandatory overtime and by fostering a culture where officers feel valued. The city also touts its great location and leverages technology throughout the hiring process, texting and emailing its applicants at least once a week.
  • In Virginia, employees have the option (depending on the agency) to work 10-hour shifts, four days a week, while nursing mothers can do 12-hour shifts, three days a week.

Perhaps the most important “strategy,” however, is the willingness to accept change as demographics shift and a newer generation enters the workforce. Says Carey Adamson, national public sector practice leader for Colonial Life: “Government leaders must be open to stepping away from the status quo. Budgets are a challenge, so they must be as innovative as possible in their strategies to recruit the next generation of talented and skilled employees.”

For a deeper look at the results from the Governing Institute and Colonial Life research and more insight into how government agencies can revamp their workforces for the future, download the complete handbook, “A State and Local Government Leader’s Guide to Building the Public Workforce of the Future.”