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The Crisis of an Aging Government Workforce

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the public sector employed roughly 17,083,000 individuals in 2017 – yet only 24 percent were between the ages of 20 and 35. Clearly, there exists a disconnect between young talent and government agencies. Millennials aren’t fighting for government jobs, and many entities aren’t implementing policies to recruit them.

But left unaddressed, this underrepresentation is a ticking time bomb.

By 2020, millennials will represent 40 percent of the total workforce, which means this budding generation will quickly be vital to the continuation of the public sector and, more importantly, your organization. But what do young job-seekers crave in a career? What benefits do they value most, and how can you compete with private-sector incentives without busting the budget?

Agencies won’t impress fresh talent with stale tactics, which could mean high-level organizational shifts are needed. Before you launch any recruitment efforts, be sure your company champions the following four millennial-approved values:


Micromanagers, beware! 72 percent of millennials say they would like to be their own boss, despite the hardships and instability of entrepreneurship. Why? Entrepreneurship offers independence, autonomy and a results-driven performance – exactly what young workers want.


Partial and full-time telework options are essential to recruiting (and keeping!) young talent. According to a study by FlexJobs, millennials are 82% more likely to express loyalty to an employer that offers flexible work options. In fact, more than one-third of survey respondents said they would take a 10-20 percent pay cut in exchange for telework while one in four were actively job hunting due to work flexibility issues.


“Millennials don’t believe in money – they believe in themselves.” According to research by strategy firm Department26, millennials value passion more than traditional job functions such as salary and benefits. If you want to hold onto this generation of world-changers, plug employees into the big picture by highlighting the correlation between daily work and high-level goals.


According to research by Intelligence Group, a whopping 88 percent of millennials favor collaborative, not competitive, work environments. Scheduling team lunches, promoting professional organizations and working alongside other government agencies are just a few ways to leverage this group’s knack for networking.

As a 26 year-old professional with experience in both the private and public sectors, I can personally vouch for much of the research presented in this post. But don’t just take it from me; the data speaks for itself! The next generation of workers craves a company culture that is flexible, impactful and collaborative, which could spell change for many government agencies. But is it really worth the hassle to pursue millennial recruitment and retention?

In short, yes.

Both young and seasoned staff are critical to the success of any organization. As in all things, balance is essential. While veteran employees provide invaluable industry experience, young employees bring fresh ideas, innovative solutions and a contagious energy to kickstart new projects. But perhaps most importantly, millennials are soon to be the largest generation in the American workforce. Private companies and government entities alike must soon adapt or face the crisis of an asymmetrical workforce unequipped to thrive in the coming decades.

Is your agency ready?

Laura Wilcox is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.

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Shayne Martin

The very first point – Independence – manifests itself in strange ways. Many government agencies micromanage employees without even realizing it. I can’t even download a chrome extension or an extra font without approval from someone who most of the time has never heard of what I’m trying to download. it’s micromanagement on a systemic level. Not sure how to fix it.

Laura Wilcox

That’s very true. As a graphic designer, sourcing new fonts is a large part of my job, and like you, I have to obtain permissions first. Hopefully as young talent grows into supervisory roles, those values of independence and autonomy will work their way into the public sector as a whole.

Juana Williams

Shayne, you are so right! We are told what font to use in email and business text. Also, we have been assigned a color for our ID lanyards and other things that may need a color. I missed most of the govloop virtual summit yesterday while I tried to obtain adobe flash. Settled on only “run” for the remainder of the presentations! Never had that problem before, guess we are going backwards on software, not forward. 🙁

Kimberly Nuckles

Great read! These are important factors that all government agencies should be considering for their future viability. Thanks!

Kate Lee

I think some of these changes will happen suddenly. Right now a lot of people in supervisory positions are still older people that grew up without the internet and communication tools. I think once the next wave of managers starts taking over who were maybe born before the internet but grew up with it a lot of these changes will start to happen.

Laura Wilcox

That’s a very interesting point, and I hope you’re right! Certainly as millenials grow into managers, they’ll carry these principles with them.

Kathy Foster-Sandru

While efforts to hire & recruit millennials is being ramped up, the downside is we as baby boomers are being discarded and seemingly “put to pasture.” It’s offensive to say seasoned professionals do not offer fresh ideas. We are embracing social media & new processes but are still kicked out because of our age. Can you at least acknowledge ageism exists & that we are more likely to be laid off due to our age rather than to our experience and abilities? I speak for those of us who are let go between the ages of 45 & 67 who still have a lot to give in the workforce. Articles like this one serves no purpose but to further the argument for ageism in the workplace (and in the eyes of recruiters). Perhaps you need to walk in our shoes for a moment to see what ageism in the workplace has done to seasoned professionals who are suddenly let go in favor of the shiny new model.

Juana Williams

Totally agree. While there are interesting ideas here, it reads like a motivation to promote ageism. What makes you think that baby boomers wouldn’t like some flexibility? Boomers can’t job-hop like millennials that can live with their parents.

Laura Wilcox

That’s great to hear! I imagine a lot of these values could be universal. I think it’s safe to say nobody enjoys being micromanaged, and feeling tied into your company is certainly a morale boost at any age.

Joyce tabb

Even though I agree with Kathy reference baby boomers being kicked out the work force ( am one myself 62), I do believe as baby boomers we should be given the opportunity to mentor the millennials. I am being micromanaged by someone younger than me. I dislike this very much. I too seek independence after working for over 40 years in the same profession. I believe those four areas are also what baby boomers are seeking in a job; I know I do – independence, purpose, flexibility, and collaboration. Not happening. If this could be implemented now with baby boomers it could be past down to the millennials as a culture. Good luck with your search.