On the front lines: How agencies recruit young feds

The ongoing fiscal pressures and bipartisan squabbling over pay and benefits may have created a hostile environment for federal employees, but it hasn't deterred young people from pursuing a career in government, at least as the acting administrator of the General Services Administration sees it.

“I haven’t seen any diminution in interest among young people in making contributions to public service; I’ve actually seen that increase,” said Dan Tangherlini, GSA's temporary head. “While this partisanship make it harder for us to get things done, the desire for things to be done [and] the desire to serve government, I just see that continuing to increase.”

Tangherlini, along with officials from the departments of Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and Transportation, spoke at a May 8 town hall meeting hosted by the Partnership for Public Service. The event coincides with the Public Service Recognition Week, a nationwide effort to recognize government employees.

The potential barriers to hiring aren't just the internal policies that affect federal employees' on the job. Although it was not discussed at the event, a recent Pew Foundation survey found that more than half of Americans think the federal government is corrupt, a finding that prompted concern about agencies' ability to hire young professionals.

DHS has launched outreach initiatives with higher education to tap into talent found at colleges and universities nationwide, offering students or recent graduates internships and fellowships, Secretary Janet Napolitano said.  
 
“But our chief challenge is finding the people who want to work in the security area, getting them in and training them,” she said.

To get young people in the door at HHS, the agency has taken what its leader described as a Peace Corps-like approach to recruit health care providers. HHS tripled its number of National Health Service Corps members by offering loan repayment and scholarships to those who work in underserved areas, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said. 

With the retirement wave inching closer, Sebelius said HHS is working to ensure it has enough talent to replenish the exiting baby boomers and then keeping those employees for the longer term.

“I think we need to take succession planning very seriously and recruit that talent,” she said.

At the Transportation Department, mentorships and internships have proven particularly useful to fill key positions and facilitate the institutional-knowledge transfer. Senior managers, for examples, are tasked with finding one younger employee they can mentor, said Secretary Ray LaHood.

Another way for agencies to attract young talent is to offer them flexibility. GSA, for example, is “pushing very hard” on telework and other flexible work arrangements “to strike that balance between home and work,” Tangherlini said.

Whether it’s telework or flextime, job sharing or modified schedules for parents, a strategy should recognize that no employee needs to choose between family or career, Sebelius said.

“That’s one of the things government actually can offer, sometimes ahead of the private sector,” she said. “Government may not have the kind of salary competitiveness with the private market but hopefully, we can be a more family-friendly environment.”

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

Reader comments

Wed, May 9, 2012 Misaacm Washington DC

The Feds have no interest in recruiting young, technologically savvy people. Doing so would show everyone how little the current feds accomplish every day. I know several recent young college graduates, some of which have had vaunted "internships" in the federal government. Despite excellent writing and computer skills, none of them has EVER obtained an interview despite sending in dozens of applications to Federal agencies. Few ever hear back, not even a form reply. If the Feds are looking for young talent, they must be looking only at their own children whom I hope will have a better work ethic than the current feds.

Wed, May 9, 2012

First step is to throw away all of those OLD (therefore worthless) Feds. Second step is to hire young inexperienced people. Third step is to have the OLD (still worthless) contractors teach the young Feds how to do their jobs.

Wed, May 9, 2012 Jon Dc

As a younger federal employee, I agree that more could be done to recruit and retain those under 30 and even 40. Leaving the private sector for federal employment was not an easy choice. The pay was less, the opportunities were less but job stability was the big plus. I personally do not think the perspective of the employee’s mind needs to be changed, but it is the leaders of the agency that need to adapt to the change in culture. No longer will the 20 something crowd sign on if they think the need to be in service for 30 years to climb the federal ladder. Leadership that has the old school mentality that one must wait their turn in line to climb the ladder is breeding the false stereotypical concepts of federal service. Effective recruitment is only one of the pieces to the federal employment puzzle, learning how to manage the employees that are in their 20’s and 30’s is a critical piece of the puzzle.

This is not a jaded statement, this is one of experience. I have been blessed with having leadership work with me in my career that allowed me to move from a GS 11 in my early to mid 20’s to a GS 14 now in my early to mid 30’s. Granted I have also learned from those that were of the mindset that I needed to sit in the cubical and “wait my turn”. Those leaders that were open to learning how a workforce born with a computer in hand, connected to the web, and willing to work smarter are the ones who are able to recruit, retain and grow the next generation work force.

Wed, May 9, 2012 Fed Up Fed

Perhaps the Pew survey can be assessed in conjunction with Tankgherlini's observations about the pool of available recruits.

Maybe, after decades of exposure to corporate and governmental corruption and questionable ethics, we finally have a crop of up-and-coming new hires that see the corruption but simply don't care. A generation of employees and middle-managers that embrace situational-ethics. A lower echelon of staff that appointees and CEOs will no longer need to concern themselves about WRT whistle blowing.

A match made in the 3rd world.

Wed, May 9, 2012 Ralph Hitchens Germantown, MD

I'll tell you how the feds recruit new young employees -- they have us contractors do it for them. We bring on new young contractor employees, and the feds proceed to "cherry pick" the best & brightest to backfill their own ranks when an opening appears. The DOE Office of Classification, which my contract supports, is full of my former employees. In a way, it's a compliment to us.

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