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Help Wanted! Dealing with a Competitive Job Market

The economy is strong, and the job market is plentiful. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not if you are a government employer competing for talent with the private sector and other municipalities around you.

The economy is strong, and the job market is plentiful. That’s a good thing, right? Well, not if you are a government employer competing for talent with the private sector and other municipalities around you. It’s an extremely competitive job market out there and unemployment continues to remain low. According to, a 3.8% unemployment rate means there are 6.7 million job openings and just 6.4 million available workers to fill them. Public Sector has enough trouble recruiting with pensions no longer the main attractor for those looking at a career in government.  These numbers add to the uncertainty of getting qualified candidates. With already hard to fill jobs like policing, IT, and nursing, how do you find new ways to reach outside talent? 

The economy is one reason that job seekers are lavished in a wide variety of opportunities. But those hard to fill jobs also have unique nuances that turn off candidates. Take law enforcement for example.  Cities are now considering the need to loosen up on requirements. USA Today reports that in one state, officers and police applicants are disqualified if they smoke cigarettes, even off-duty. Everything from fitness standards to citizenships are being challenged to help recruit more police officers.

In Health & Human Services, nurse shortages are taking their toll on the departments as well as the public. In a new report from the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE), they mention certain positions, like nurses, are difficult to attract because of needed certifications and specialized licenses. So, counties are considering a shared service model to meet the needs of both communities. Not only do they reap the benefits of a highly qualified employee shared among them; the cost savings are a welcome addition, too. This isn’t the solution for everyone, but in some cases it’s the right one for now.

IT is another area struggling to get new recruits. The role of IT is evolving as technology changes and the availability of services in the Cloud increases. The need for IT staff may decrease because of this, however, at the rate which IT professionals in Government are retiring, the need for new talent is still strong. In a recent Public Technology Institute (PTI) study, 92% of respondents stated it was somewhat difficult (52%) or very difficult (40%) to find/hire IT staff with the competencies needed for their team. They also go on to say that the #1 skillset lacking in candidates is the understanding of what government does and the role of the IT department. 

The Public Sector is getting creative with ways to appeal to people who otherwise might think government jobs are boring. A 6% decrease in millennials interest in government as a career choice is an indicator that modernization of recruiting and retention efforts is an imperative direction the public sector should head in. The use of social media and videos are popping up more frequently which is a sign that attracting a diverse candidate pool is important. Also, appealing to those who want to make a different in their community helps government stand out from the private sector. 

Modernizing the workplace is also key to survival. It’s a growing expectation of employees that their employer provides a great place to work or they are moving on.  Generational data helps support this, but regardless of age, there’s a growing need for better work/life balance. What works for one employee might not work for another. This is where flexibility comes in. Employers also see the positive side to providing more remote options though mobile devices. 

Employee experience is an attractor. An employer has many control levers in place to provide positive experiences throughout an employee’s career. The key is knowing what differentiators matters most to retain them.


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