October 21, 2009 at 2:17 am #83517
Federal News RadioParticipant
For more than a decade, agencies have been told that thousands of workers one day will get up and walk out the door. This “retirement tsunami” has turned out to be nothing more than a drip. Even so, experts continue to warn that agencies remain unprepared for the “brain drain”. What do you think? Is the brain drain occurring? Will it ever happen? Or is government doing a good job of hiring new talent to fill the holes left by those retiring? And should younger feds take offense to the phrase “brain drain”?
FederalNewsRadio is taking a look at this issue in Part 3 of our special report, 5 Fallacies of Government (available Weds. morning). So let us know what ya think! And can check out the whole series here.
And if you missed it, take a look at our other two discussion boards from this week:
October 21, 2009 at 12:05 pm #83551
It may not be a retirement tsunamai but it’ll at least be a long downpour.
I do believe that people will work longer in their jobs (but at least the 401k is bouncing back) so the tsunamai may not come quite as expected. At some point demographics come in and it is just undeniable that the average age of the government workforce is extremely high compared to private sector. And that government needs to do better at college/grad school recruiting.
October 21, 2009 at 2:38 pm #83549
Jennifer D. JohnsonParticipant
I agree that we need to do a better job of recruiting recent graduates. I’m seeing some improvement in the contracting field, as we hire more and more interns every year. However, we still need to keep some experienced people around to help train them. My office has been trying to compensate for the lack of experienced people by holding in-house training sessions on various topics, and by investing in software tools to help with various procurement processes. It helps, but it’s not the same as having experienced people around.
October 21, 2009 at 6:01 pm #83547
Federal News RadioParticipant
Why do you think college students don’t think about the government as a potential employer? Do you think that has to do with the lack of recruiting done in this arena by the government?
October 21, 2009 at 7:56 pm #83545
The government also needs to do a better job with knowledge transfer. Many government employees retire and come back as consultants because they are the only ones who know the system and have not transferred that knowledge prior to retirement.
October 22, 2009 at 4:09 am #83543
I think lack of recruiting plays into it, since many agencies had their HR staffs cut back pretty heavily over the past decade or two. Also, our work suggests that career services staff at colleges and universities often don’t have the knowledge or tools to help students navigate the federal sector…beyond usajobs.gov That’s a big barrier. The Partnership for Public Service, in collaboration with OPM, has several programs working to help address this through our Call to Serve effort.
October 22, 2009 at 5:01 am #83541
Heather Krasna, MSParticipant
As a university career counselor for the last 11 years, director of career services at the Evans School of Public Affairs MPA program, and winner of the Call to Serve grant from the Partnership for Public Service to promote federal careers across the University of Washington campus, I can weigh in on why college students don’t consider federal government.
1. The federal application process is totally different from the private sector one. Students have a hard enough time writing a one-page private sector resume; to ask them to fill in a USAJobs profile listing the name and phone number of each prior boss, plus salary they earned, plus their social security number, is totally foreign to them. In addition, college career counselors by and large are completely untrained in giving advice to students who want to apply for federal jobs. I can say for myself that I was a career counselor for 8 years or so before I actually saw a federal resume, and I was STUNNED that it had a social security number, employer phone number etc. on it.
2. Federal agencies take a very long time to hire compared to private sector or even local or state government. Students just can’t/won’t wait that long.
3. Students are afraid that federal agencies will run drug tests or credit checks as part of the background check process/security clearance.
4. Many federal agencies have trouble “selling” their mission. Classic example: Social Security Admin is always hiring people, but their claims processor jobs are not sexy enough for most students; plus students don’t see how important the mission is because they have been told Social Security won’t exist for them when they retire. But these are great entry-level jobs.
Students just don’t want to start at that ground level, and unless the agency can entice them by inspiring them with their mission, they won’t be interested.
5. The benefits offered by federal agencies are excellent selling points for more established, older adults who understand the value of good health insurance, job security, or a retirement plan. Younger students mainly look at paychecks (or maybe the mission of the job).
6. For years, there’s been a general negative view of government. Unfortunately, this still exists today, and many students who want to “change the world” only think they can do it in a nonprofit organization. This is changing with the new administration, though.
7. The best entry programs for students (STEP, SCEP, FCIP, PMF etc.) are seriously under-marketed by short-staffed HR staffs, and the obscure alphabet soup of misleading acronyms doesn’t help. For instance, Federal Career Intern Program is a full time job, not an internship. This is totally misleading and leads some students not to apply.
Anyway, federal agencies have a ways to go to fix these items. We are all doing our best at colleges that are part of the Call to Serve/Partnership for Public Service efforts, and there are lots of students who are really excited to be federal–so there’s lots of hope!
October 22, 2009 at 1:29 pm #83539
Heather’s response is dead on. Time plays a critical factor, and federal areas with which I am familiar (DoD) do not have the manpower a/o capacity to connect to college recruiters. College students eschew the federal government because feedback loops and the government appraisal/review processes are vague to non-existent. Also, students are turned off by the concept of regulated raises, and view them as a hindrance to promotion and advancement.
October 22, 2009 at 1:33 pm #83537
I started to work for a large municipality in October 2000. At that time, I was told that “in 5 years, there would be a whole bunch of retirements.”
9 years later, and I’m still being told: “in 5 years….”
October 22, 2009 at 1:35 pm #83535
William A. BallweberParticipant
For (almost) everyone who has grey, greying of hidden grey (dyed) hair that rides my commute train into/out of DC, the question isn’t whether you are retiring soon, it’s just “how soon.” I know of only one grey-haired guy (who qualifies for regular retirement in two yrs) who says he’s going to stick it out for longer than 3 more years.
October 22, 2009 at 5:45 pm #83533
As a recent MPA grad, I agree that time plays a critical role in employment for the next generation. I’ve been searching for a position (federal, state or city) in Phoenix for the last 8 months, but because I need an income, I’ve recently decided to include private companies in my search.
I want to work for government and make the world a better place – but I can’t hold out much longer for my ideal job. Government needs to improve their hiring process – or they will lose the next generation.
October 22, 2009 at 5:57 pm #83531
Great point Barbara – here’s another area where the move to internal social networks like blogs and wikis can really benefit the government. They can help get all of that data out of their heads and onto a platform so that when they leave, there isn’t this issue of “brain drain.” Maybe a talent drain because you’re losing a top performer, but there should no excuse for data loss because someone retired. Now, in doing this, you’re also infringing on the time-honored tradition of “job security” – if you’re the only one who knows how to do something, how are they going to fire you, right? If you put all of that data/knowledge/best practices onto a wiki, then anyone can do it and you’ll be left without a job. We need to address these issues first before we can address the issues of knowledge transfer.
October 22, 2009 at 6:52 pm #83529
October 22, 2009 at 9:07 pm #83527
It’s one thing to look at the tombstone data in one’s HR information database, and calculate how many people are within such and such an interval of their pension eligibility age, and quite another to know just how comfortable all those people feel about the worth of their pensions, savings, and other assets. Also quite another to know:
– how much their jobs are the sort of thing they wouldn’t mind doing for a while longer,
– how much they can parlay their skillset into consulting work as a second career, making earlier departure feasible and desirable,
– how much their workplace currently validates their knowledge and skillset.
People in blue collar jobs, and some white collar ones are happy to work to their pensionable age, walk out the door and never look back. For a great many professionals, we see them taking early “retirement” from their primary employment, and using their pension to cushion the volatility and fluctuation of a second career that can often involve consulting. That is, “retirement” means withdrawal from the labour force for some, but not for others.
But, as always, the question of when and whether people retire is a matter of what they believe they are retiring from, and what they think they are retiring to. If how they view retirement as better than how they view their work, they’ll leave. If what they might be retiring to is questionable (e.g., being stuck in the house with one’s spouse, or a drop in one’s standard of living), then they’ll stay longer. Some of the research I’m familiar with suggests that people tend to retire within +/-2years of when they say they will. So, people might retire earlier, or they might retire later, but they won’t be way off what the tombstone data suggests. Still, a 4-year range can have big implications for your organization. Factors that can impact on which side of the anticipated date retirement occurs can include things like finances and fluctuations in investment income/worth, changes in health, changes in spouse/partner’s health or employment situation, and emergence/attrition of other obligations or personal projects.
One of the things I haven’t seen any research on, but would be interested in is what you might call a “changing neighbourhood” effect. You’ve probably had older relatves that lived in the same neighbourhood for ages and felt very attached to it, and at a certain point the neighbourhood had changed enough that it just didn’t feel like their neighbourhood anymore, so they sold the house and bought a condo. I guess this is somewhat analogous to Mitchell and Lee’s model of “job embeddedness”. People stay in jobs and organizations that they feel a part of, and personally invested in. I wonder if people are more inclined to retire earlier than anticipated when enough of their traditional coworkers retire, such that the workplace doesn’t feel like “their neighbourhood” anymore?
Whatever the rate of retirement, the biggest challenge is that of fostering effective knowledge transfer. The central problem is never retention OR recruitment; it’s continuity. You can always find live bodies. If the people who work for you now know everything that the folks who used to work for you knew, there’s no problem. But if the people walking out the door are replaced with kids that have credentials up the wazoo and zero understanding of the history, culture, processes, business lines, and values of the organization, you’re in trouble.
I think the other aspect that tends not to be thought about very deeply, is the implications for a high volume of departures on the capacity of HR do do quality staffing. One of the things we’ve seen in the Canadian federal context is that, among all those retirees, are people in HR, leaving tons of spaces open for younger folks in HR to play career hopscotch and bop around from organization to organization in search of a promotion. The churn in the HR community, prompted by the wave of retirements and the promotion opportunities it affords, is problematic. So, while there are cogent reasons to be concerned about turnover and retirements at senior levels, there are some VERY good reasons to focus one’s gaze on maintaining stability and capacity in the HR shop of your organization. If you’re gonna worry about knowledge transfer anywhere, worry about it there. After all, they are the folks who are going to score you that next wave of quality employees, so they damn well better know what they ought to be looking for and how to get them.
October 23, 2009 at 11:27 am #83525
I’d be more worried that we might have a completely senior dominated workforce that never retires; only dies off. What ever happenned to the “Golden Years”? I thought old people were supposed to go play golf and go fishing for recreation and the young were supposed to build the “Brave New World”b When I go fishing now, I’m looking for some extra food.
October 23, 2009 at 1:32 pm #83523
I’d have to say that it might not be that farfetched that older talented workers are leaving and not being replaced by equally as skilled workers. I retired as a Chief Information Security Officer about a year and a half ago from a smaller agency and from what I’ve heard, they still have not filled my position. A year before I left the agency hired another security person to handle incident response however, the indvidual did not have the right characteristics to manage a full information assurance program. The agency did offer him the position but he was wise enough to know that the position was beyond his skill set since he was operationally, not managerially, competent so he turned it down.
I’ve moved on to do consulting work with some of the federal agencies and I’ve been rather appalled at some of the people who are in high positions who lack the long time knowledge and managerial skills that I acquired over 30 years serving in the government. It seems in some agencies, those that have back filled older workers with much younger workers who have moved up very quickly in their careers and have missed the maturing process that many in my generation learned over time. I know this is not always the case in every agency since I still have many friends still working in government. I would have to say that some agencies are suffering from the older workers departing to soon. In my own case, the management asked what it would take to keep me and I simply told them that I wanted a substantial increase which they refused so there was nothing left to negotiate.
I have seen some quality younger members of the workforce that are coming on-board, however, there is a maturing process in developing that talent to its capability that is often missed.
October 24, 2009 at 1:05 am #83521
It might be that there is less and less opportunity to work or train or be recognized than there once were. Opportunities are hard to come by – a-la-Balloon Boy Syndrome. People are going to greater extremes to be recognized, but training and educational opportunities seem to be tied to class and wealth.
November 20, 2009 at 5:19 am #83519
Heather, this is just a great summary of key challenges. Apologies for the super long delay in getting back – I actually forgot to click the follow button after posting and didn’t know you’d responded (wish the default was set to automatically follow a conversation after posting a comment, with a way to opt-out if desired). Like your optimism! Call to Serve is terrific program and the grants piece is one of the gems. Will definitely pass this on to my colleagues. Thanks, josh
p.s. Emily, I know there are some major efforts underway by OPM in particular to help streamline key pieces of the hiring process. It’s a big ship they’re trying to turn, so don’t know how fast it will be but they have the right attitude. Fingers crossed that we’ll see some real impacts in the next year.
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