Looking Forward: The Government Workforce of the Future

In my role at Workday, I often get the opportunity to meet with government leaders to discuss their organizations and the citizens they serve. While the challenges of elections, budgets, and policy debates are common topics, more recent conversations have focused on stewardship and how government leaders can prepare for the future. Here are a few themes I’ve heard on the topic of the government workforce:

The future of government services requires bold thinking. In the next 30 years population and workforce demographics are going to significantly change, with the number of Americans age 65 and over doubling in size. As more baby boomers retire, the millennial generation will replace many of these experienced workers, comprising nearly half of the U.S. labor force by 2020. These shifting demographics could have big implications for governments—from potential labor shortages during a time when more services are needed to support aging populations, to the challenge of attracting a younger generation of workers in a competitive talent market.

These profound changes are driving some government leaders to think critically and innovatively about the future of their services, and take action. For example, the state of Maine conducted a nearly year-long research project called “Maine Workforce 2025,” to seek answers to questions about the future of its government workforce. In Washington State, the CIO is implementing a “holacracy” within his department—an organizational model that eliminates the traditional hierarchical management structure—as a way of attracting and retaining talent.

Governments must understand and attract the next-generation workforce. With one-third of state workers eligible to retire in the next five years, governments are becoming more focused on recruiting and retaining millennials. This younger generation comes with a new set of values and expectations, from flexible work environments and 24/7 connectivity to having variety in work assignments and the teams with whom they collaborate.

Government leaders are thinking more strategically about how they can attract millennials, including investments in modern technologies like cloud computing that give workers greater flexibility to work remotely and collaborate with colleagues. They know they’ll need better succession planning and leadership development for the next generation of managers and leaders, including ways to identify and reward top talent, and will require updated processes and modern technologies to support these efforts. Leaders also are considering structural policy changes, like civil service reform and compensation structure alignment, to create more agility in hiring and retaining employees.

Recruiting talent demands a new and proactive approach. Many governments still struggle with moving from a passive recruiting approach of posting positions on their websites, to proactively reaching out to recruit new employees and discover people already within their broader workforces who are ready for greater challenges.

The next-generation workforce expects to communicate using modern tools—such as social networks to search for jobs and engage with recruiters and hiring managers—on a variety of mobile devices. It’s important that hiring managers and recruiters in government are able to connect with millennials on this level, to provide positive candidate experiences and prove they represent a modern-day organization that is a desirable place to work. New advances in recruiting technology can help governments expand their talent search and find and connect with new prospects they normally wouldn’t, using innovations like social sourcing and big data analytics to identify potential talent pools in their locales.

It’s exciting to engage with government leaders thinking ahead to the future of government services and reimagining how to build and manage a workforce to support the needs of citizens for years to come. I look forward to participating in and sharing the insights from more conversations on these topics.