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Want to Attract Bright, Young Candidates? Treat Them Like It

There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the credit. Try to be in the first group; there is less competition there. -Indira Gandhi

I have a friend who works for Google. He wakes up every morning greeted by Google transportation that will bring him to work. He then enters a slick open environment at work where there is a nap room, catered food, free gym access, beer/wine Fridays, and a network with some of the brightest minds in the world.

For some reason, it’s hard to fathom the Department of Labor having the same workplace. So is is any surprise that government is having trouble attracting and retaining the youngest and brightest minds before they’re recruited into the private sector?

Faced with private sector competitors, what can the government do to compete in attracting younger workers? Is it money? Recognition? Autonomy? Without a singular solution, one idea seems viable: Activate employees; don’t treat them like baseball cards.

Charlie Chippeo, Research Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that federal and local governments should break down barriers and bend their rules to become responsive to our changing economy and market.

“If you look at the data, it’s not so much that public employees make less across the board, it’s just more in certain areas and certain jobs that they make dramatically less. And in some cases those jobs are particularly important,” said Chippeo.

Of course, many government workers enter the public sector because they want to help others , but sometimes it’s difficult to stick to your intrinsic values when your private sector peers have fulfillment and more money in their wallet.

“People don’t go into state government to get rich,” said Chippeo. “On the other hand, I think people do want to be recognized and I think people do want to be rewarded for success. And I think that sometimes those things are a little more difficult to achieve then they ought to be in the public sector.”

It’s only human nature to want affirmation and appreciation for our accomplishments. From getting that gold star in kindergarten, that ‘Employee of the Month’ plaque, or simply a congratulatory email, we all want recognition. That’s especially true for the up and coming millennial workforce.

“If we want to keep qualified young people in government, we’re going to have to change our compensation process,” said Chippeo.

“I think there are cases in which the way that we go about doing compensation for public employees is too bureaucratic and too rigid and in many cases we’re going to need a system that is a bit more flexible and can be a little bit more nimble and responsive to changes in an economy and in a market that is changing faster then it ever has before,” said Chippeo.

Charlotte, North Carolina, is currently trying to modernize the compensation process. They know their potential employers are bright, thus, have plenty of suitors vying for their work. And North Carolina had previously experienced retention problems when hospital employees started leaving for the private sector.

To rectify the situation, Chippeo says North Carolina “created a line item in their budget last year and put 7.5 million dollars into it – and used it to retain workers in high demand fields.”

Having a steady workforce at the state level isn’t just beneficial for the government — it’s good for taxpayers as well. “You end up paying a lot more for having less qualified people or for having a lot of turnover then you do by paying a little more and getting competent people and getting them to stay,” said Chippeo.

Chippeo also mentioned Denver, Colorado, where employees could opt into a program with extensive training and the government would then “deploy them almost like a SWAT team.”

He loves the program because it consists of “investing in that kind of training for employees, and then recognizing them in the sense of really giving them the responsibility and trust to solve these difficult problems.” When we feel like we can accomplish our goals, we most often do.

These problems are nuanced and complex. These steps, even at the local level, are in the right direction.

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