Millennials are leaving the federal government in droves.
In a recent article, The Washington Post notes “the share of the federal workforce under the age of 30 dropped to 7 percent [in 2014], the lowest figure in nearly a decade.”
Moreover, Federal News Radio cited only 34% of millennials are satisfied with their opportunities for advancement.
There are many reasons why we’re leaving. In my conversations with young federal employees, the most cited reasons for leaving include cumbersome regulations and antiquated management styles. In fact, they normally wonder why I stay– citing the large number of inefficiencies, outdated regulations, and restrictive management styles as a huge turn–off and barriers of innovation, creativity, and collaboration.
Many become disillusioned as their efforts to inject new ideas into a strongly protected system are met with stiff resistance.
An equally immovable deterrent is the huge lack of Baby Boomer retirements– ultimately blocking many competent employees from advancing to more influential roles. It’s no wonder young government workers are being lured away to non-government organizations that offer opportunities to receive higher salaries and have more creative autonomy.
The private sector is looking pretty good these days, but I’d like to offer another perspective. As technology expands and takes a permanent place in workplace culture, the federal government needs young people like never before. Which is why I’d like to offer my millennial colleagues the following reasons for joining and remaining in the federal government:
One of the most important reasons for securing a job in the federal government is to wield INFLUENCE. Millennials have the power to mold and shape our government from the inside out– ensuring the government does not become less effective due to a lack of capable and experienced employees in leadership. In a 2014 study, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found two-thirds of the Federal workforce is eligible for retirement in 2017.
Additionally,the Office for Personnel Management and the Partnership for Public Service, respectively, state the average Federal employee is 47.3 years of age and that persons 30 years of age and younger only make up 7.1 percent of the federal workforce.
The reality is that the retirement wave is UNAVOIDABLE, and will provide MANY opportunities for millennials to assume leadership seats at the decision-making table much earlier than their predecessors.
Once we, millennials, have assumed these influential roles within the various agencies it will be our opportunity, and responsibility, to shape and mold the federal government into the system that we feel will effectively and efficiently serve the American public.
Because Brain Drain
The second and more important reason is to fend off the upcoming BRAIN DRAIN. Once the retirement wave hits we will be the leaders responsible for updating out-of-date regulations/policies, informing the national’s highest priorities, implementing key strategic initiatives across all sectors, utilizing government resources in a manner which is consistent with the countries priorities, protecting America’s public lands and natural resources, and reforming management strategies that will keep pace with the changing workforce.
The American public, and at times the world, will hold us accountable for eliminating the long standing regulatory and cultural barriers that cause the government to react and adapt slowly to societal changes and advances in technology. We must be the driving force that continues to increase transparency and identify public-private partnership opportunities that support innovation and better tax payer stewardship.
Although past and current management/leadership styles were effective for past generations, the world has become interconnected through the use of technology which has created a work environment requiring increased global thinking, understanding of cultural diversity, technological savvy, partnership building, and shared leadership. And given that 65% of today’s school age youth will likely be employed by jobs that do not yet exist, innovation, creativity, and flexibility will be critical to our nation’s success.
But to Make a Difference, You Have to Be Ready
However, until that moment comes, we must take advantage of every opportunity to develop our servitude and leadership skills. A recent Forbes article argues that while millennials are assuming leadership positions in the private sector, they have not necessarily received the training needed to perform to their full potential.
To change this trend we must volunteer to serve on government/non-profit/for-profit boards, inter-agency working groups, and committees. We must take on detail assignments, stretch assignments, and participate in assessment/trainings where we can better fine-tune our leadership/management styles.
We should read self-development publications (e.g., The GPS Guide to Success) that help us identify our goals and the path we should take to achieve them. Finally, regardless of our GS grade level, we should begin the process of writing our Executive Core Qualifications (ECQs). In order to serve as an executive in the federal government we must demonstrate our mastery of the ECQs (please read Application Hero for free resume writing tips). Our Generation X counterparts are making huge gains in preparing the Government for the future, but we must be ready to take the torch when it is our turn.
The federal government needs young professionals who are motivated, passionate, and willing to make tough decisions. This is your opportunity to get an influential seat at the table where you can advocate for the reforms you believe in and ensure the government has the leadership needed to continue working towards its missions.
And remember, “if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu” – Jolie Justus