Forrester advises using tech to retain and train young feds

An industry analyst said workers who are 25 years old and younger have many characteristics that federal agencies need as they seek ways to replenish the workforce.

Federal officials talk about the need to hire young employees, although older managers often say they find 25-year-olds difficult to supervise. That generation gap has opened new business opportunities for Forrester Research and other technology-oriented firms.

Forrester's senior industry analyst Claire Schooley recently offered an audience of federal managers various tips on how to keep younger workers from leaving the government. She spoke Dec. 6 at an industry event sponsored by Plateau Systems, a company that makes software for managing data on employee training and job performance.

Schooley said workers who are 25 years old and younger have many characteristics that federal agencies need as they seek ways to replenish a workforce whose members are becoming eligible to retire in large numbers.

But because 25-year-olds expect to frequently change jobs in their careers, managers must make a special effort to retain and develop their abilities, Schooley said. Offering younger workers special assignments lasting a week or two is a good first step for preparing to replace workers who will be retiring, she said. Such assignments give managers an opportunity to discover which younger employees they most want to retain and train.

To develop leadership skills in younger employees, managers should offer Web-based training, Schooley said. People in their early 20s are used to completing short courses or learning online, she said. "They like to learn that way."

Managers should also try to accommodate younger workers' expectations to have information presented to them online, Schooley said, adding that 25-year-olds frequently ask their supervisors, "Why can't we get this online?"

Information technologies such as expert locators and communities of practice are other valuable tools for developing younger federal employees, Schooley said. Those Web-based tools help them quickly find experts who can answer their questions or offer useful suggestions about their work. "Young people love that," she said.

Schooley also endorsed traditional ways of retaining and developing younger workers through mentoring, coaching and career planning activities. And she encouraged federal managers to rely more on competency assessments than traditional job credentials to manage and replenish their workforce. Competency assessment tools and integrated training modules are gaining currency in some of the best-managed federal agencies and corporations, she said.

The Transportation Department's Office of Strategic Initiatives has started using such tools to manage DOT's workforce. Those software tools, however, require considerable tailoring to be effective, said Ivan Armfield, DOT's program manager for workforce planning.

DOT is using Plateau Systems' competency assessment suite to find gaps in the competencies of executives, managers and supervisors, Armfield said. DOT will later use the tools to assess blue-collar employees.

Employees get nervous when managers start using technology to find skill gaps and make workforce decisions, Armfield said. Managers, therefore, should spend all the time it takes to communicate with employees about how they are using competency assessment and learning management tools, he said. They must convince employees of the value of such tools.

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