With approximately half the federal workforce nearing retirement age, government agencies are faced with the challenge of determining how to transition knowledge and determine the next generation of leaders. This exercise in organization transition presents a particularly acute problem given a recent Washington Post report that the number of employees under the age of 30 working for the federal government is at the lowest level since 2005. This means that the future leadership of our federal government workforce is just 6.6 percent of the total federal workforce, which is down from 9.1 percent in 2010. In raw numbers, this equals a drop of 45,000 individuals over five years. If even a portion of those lost to public service represent high potential leaders, this is an impactful brain drain. So, what is causing this exodus and what can be done about it?
Recognition. Leaders sometimes fall into the trap of managing projects at the expense of people. I was reminded about this recently while talking to a young woman. In short, she told me she never receives management recognition for the good work she performs—teaching computer skills to people who are resistant to technological change. She sees her job as a daily challenge and said a little appreciation would go a long way. While recognition from a leader would seem to be common sense, agency leadership needs to make it common practice in order to attract, retain, and motivate future generations.
Empowerment. The broad use of computers and mobile devices has created a generation whose work habits are far less tethered to a desk than any generation in the past—just take note of how many people are using laptops at your local coffee shop! Agency leaders need to support millennial tendencies to work remotely and independently.
Targeted Investment. With only so much time and money, any investment of dollars needs to be focused on specific outcomes. A terrific example is the DoD DIUX (Defense Innovation Unit Experimental). DIUX is a full-time outreach office in Silicon Valley that will serve to broaden the Pentagon’s access to new technologies. This innovative approach provides a model for other agencies to follow in promoting public service work that is appealing to the millennial generation.
Knowledge Transfer. Don’t wait—the best and brightest are working on an accelerated schedule when it comes to expected growth and leadership opportunities. Encourage senior leaders to pass along to promising younger workers their views and insights. This knowledge transfer should be targeted to those identified for leadership roles.
Meet the challenge of a looming generational transition head-on by developing actionable solutions that identify future leaders, enable knowledge transfer, and increase leadership capacity. A little bit of extra attention now can greatly improve the position of an agency in the future.