Azaroff: Forget MySpace. It’s time for FedSpace

Twenty-somethings could make e-government and other cross-agency initiatives happen

Young people are moving the vertical line of government culture, tilting it sideways, making it horizontal. The government needs to let the line move, let the workforce evolve.

The government must embrace young people and their innovative thoughts rather than force them to conform to an antiquated system. In the next five years, half of all federal government employees will be eligible to retire. That situation creates a major recruitment, hiring and retention challenge for the public sector.

The baby boom generation tends to think vertically. But those in the millennial generation — my generation — tend to think and work horizontally. Horizontal thinking reflects the globalization occurring today. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and management expert Bruce Tulgan have observed that our country is experiencing a revolution that is equivalent in proportion to the Industrial Revolution. Millennials were raised in this revolutionary time and have developed a revolutionary method of thinking.

Facebook and MySpace are the world of twenty-somethings. They like to network and work in teams. They see work as an opportunity to develop as people, exercise their passions and make a difference. Work is about more than making money. Career advancement means moving into different jobs and learning new skills. Young people seek lateral movement instead of simply moving up the corporate ladder.

Because many young people reject hierarchy, this generation tends to clash with government culture.

The government should see this as a strength and an advantage. More interagency collaboration is occurring, and many of the collaboration systems are outdated and bureaucratic. Millennials can make the government a unified force instead of a segmented entity. They can work as a team to make governmentwide initiatives, such as e-government, lines of business and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 12, become realities.

Millennials grew up using computers and the Internet. They know how to use technology in ways that their predecessors would not consider. I experienced this firsthand when I did a Facebook search to find twenty-something government employees to interview for a feature article I wrote for Federal Computer Week, which appears in this issue. Instead of ordering me to conform to the tradition of calling public affairs with an inquiry, my editors applauded my new method. The government should follow that attitude — encourage young employees to take a hands-on approach and use their knowledge and assets to create new solutions and approaches.

The government should also take a horizontal approach in their outreach to potential young employees. Partnerships with colleges have been an effective recruiting tool. Millennials would rather hear about applying for a government job from a professor or friend whom they trust. That gives the government a face and accountability. Again, it’s about flattening the playing field and spinning the hierarchy.

Uncle Sam has a huge task on his hands, but a makeover never hurt anyone, did it?

Azaroff, a student at the University of Maryland at College Park, was a reporter intern at Federal Computer Week this summer.

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