Tyler Robinson is the Chairman of the Executive Board for Young Government Leaders, and Portfolio Risk Officer at the Export-Import Bank of the United States.
It has been discussed many times how the federal government is facing a retirement wave in the next few years. At Young Government Leaders, we want aspiring future leaders to be prepared when it is their time to take on more responsibilities. The following will discuss the long term career perceptions of young federal employees and what managers can do to encourage retention of those employees.
YGL surveyed its members to ascertain why they choose to work in government, if they want to stay in government, how senior do they aspire to become, and whether they would recommend a similar career to the generation behind them.
For why YGL members work in government, with an average age of 33, the number one reason was community/public service at 44 percent, followed by the mission of the agency at 25 percent, with job security coming third at 21 percent. This closely matches my experience interacting with younger people in federal service. There is a strong sense that they are doing work that positively impacts their community and that sense of purpose motivates them to do their job well. Managers who can give their employees work that is challenging and ties into this sense of public service can tap into that desire to serve their communities.
Seventy percent of the respondents plan to have a long-term career in government. Of those wanting a long-term career in government, 58 percent want to stay in their current agency with the rest wanting to be in another federal agency. We also asked whether individuals considered their job a career (44 percent of respondents), a stepping stone to a career (45 percent of respondents), or something else (11 percent of respondents). For those who consider their job a career, 89 percent want to have a long term career in government with 79 percent of those wanting to stay in their current agency. For those who consider their job a stepping stone, 57 percent want to have a long term career in government with 30 percent of those wanting to stay in their current agency. Managers should consider communicating with their employees about what they want out of a career and try to integrate those things into their employees’ current job.
Not everyone desires to become a part of the Senior Executive Service (SES). However, with a large number of current members of the SES eligible or soon to be eligible for retirement, having individuals behind them desiring to fill those shoes is important. In the YGL survey, 63 percent of respondents have a career goal of becoming a member of the SES. As mentioned before, those who consider their job a career are more likely to stay in their current agency than those who don’t. For managers of employees who aspire to higher levels of leadership, consider allowing them little opportunities to lead projects or other assignments. I have attended a lot of leadership training over the years, but I learned as much or more when I had managers who gave me small projects I could lead.
Finally, it is important for the future of the federal workforce to retain the current group of younger employees, but it is equally important to attract the generation currently in high school and college. For the last couple of years YGL has had a program, called the GOLD Fellowship, where current graduate school students help members of the YGL executive board on a variety of tasks from social media, to program evaluation, to starting a YGL chapter on campus. We have seen a very positive response from students wanting to pursue a career in government. Furthermore, we asked YGL members whether they would recommend a career in government to young people they know. Of respondents, 40 percent are very likely to recommend a career in government with 49 percent somewhat likely to recommend a career in government. This is encouraging and managers who are hiring new employees or backfilling current positions should consider whether those positions would be a good fit for the Recent Graduates Program or the Presidential Management Fellows Program.