Panel: Feds must adapt to the next generation of workers

 Janet Barnes, chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management, recently met a young federal employee who had worked in government for two years and had held 14 jobs.

“I’ve moved on, moved up and done different things,” the employee told Barnes. “That’s the way I want to work.”

Barnes said that story made her realize that the government must accommodate the preferences of a younger generation of workers if it expects to recruit and retain top talent.

“They think differently than we do,” said Ronald Sanders, chief human capital officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Our leaders struggle with the generation gaps…. Once we bring [young] folks in, we’ve got to deal with generational tensions that will exist in the
workplace.”

Sanders and Barnes spoke April 1 during a panel discussion on workforce management sponsored by Cisco Systems at the FOSE 2008 Conference and Exposition hosted by Federal Computer Week’s parent company, the 1105 Government Information Group.

Sanders said government has to respond to the wanderlust that Barnes described, or young professionals “are going to vote with their feet.”

To address that trend, the intelligence community has developed a program in which upper-level managers are required to enhance their professional experience by working at other agencies.

“You have to complete one or more interagency assignments to be promoted to senior rank,” Sanders said. “We’ve built an infrastructure to facilitate movement between our agencies, cutting across Cabinet lines.”

Panelists also agreed that the government must find ways to meet the technology expectations of young workers to keep them from leaving.

Alan Balutis, director of North American public-sector consulting at Cisco Systems’ Internet Business Solutions Group, said young government employees expect agencies to provide the same technology they use in their personal lives, including blogs and other collaborative tools.

Overall, the panel concurred that the government must cultivate innovative approaches to managing its workforce to deal with an upsurge in retirements and the pressure to meet performance mandates.
“We have to think in nontraditional ways about the workforce,” said Barnes, co-chairwoman of the CIO Council’s Information Technology Workforce Committee. “It’s not just hire somebody, bring them in and [have them] work eight hours a day sitting at [their] desk.”

In the end, attracting and retaining talented workers is “all about changing our boundaries, our cultures and the way we think about them,” Barnes said. 

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