How to Be a Competitive Employer

At a time when the competition to attract workers is at an all-time high in both the public and private sectors, governments can do two things to make themselves attractive employers: rebrand and embrace technology.

A 2021 Glassdoor study found that 86% of human resources (HR) professionals said that recruiting has become akin to marketing, and 68% of millennials said they check an employer’s social media to evaluate their brand. For the public sector, that brand needs to offer a technologically innovative and modern environment, experts said during a GovLoop training Thursday on attracting new-hires.

The Power of a Brand

That’s a challenge “because those aren’t reflexes that governments have and therefore the idea of changing brand proposition and brand is a critical, critical thing for governments to consider in this age of incredibly intense competition for talent,” said Gianluca Cairo, Vice President of Public Sector at Ceridian.

But agencies are trying. For instance, Genaro Baez, Director of HR Operations-Talent Acquisition-Learning and Development for Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, said two people are assigned to actively manage the county’s social media pages. What’s more, the county incorporated texting capabilities for distributing job openings, and set up a marketing employment branding workgroup that came up with the slogan “Changemakers work here.”

“When we’re trying to go to market for that frontline staff and we’re all picking from the same candidate pool as much more name-brand entities than us, we have to show that people do have fun here, people do contribute to a mission,” Baez said.

The Allure of Flexibility

James Wolff, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Associate Administrator for Information Management and Chief Information Officer, said he’s got his eye on the expectation of a hybrid work environment, “giving folks the flexibility to do the work that excites them.”

Plus, in a hybrid setup, computers and monitors become the interface among coworkers. “Those are intermediaries to the people you work with, and unless those things are modern [and] meet your expectations, then they become detractors,” he said.

The Advantage of a Career Path

He also touted agency programs that work with minority-serving institutions to bring in science, technology and engineering students as interns, and an Energy Department internship program that has a cybersecurity focus, even getting interns security clearances. More than 70 people participated this year, he said.

“How do we get the right people into the organization and how do we build them up to be able to meet our organizational needs over a career, and then how do we keep them there with the right incentive mechanisms?” Wolff said. “We are highly dependent on a highly educated, highly capable workforce and if we don’t do these efforts across the whole spectrum of a career, then our workforce won’t be there in the future.”

Michael Littlejohn, Managing Director for Sustainability Solutions at EY, said that his teams have brainstormed with several public-sector clients about similar internship programs, especially after intelligence and national security clients said branding was a major barrier to hiring. In many communities, working in that space has a negative connotation, he added.

Baez said he prioritizes hiring from within and is working to make it a legislative mandate that the county hires internally first and then upskills employees to be able to perform in new jobs.

“In order for public sector to be competitive, they need to look at things like peasant cuisine,” he said. “When you look at some of the world’s best cuisines, they’re peasant cuisines, and they utilize from tail to snout. They use every single part of what they’re preparing. Public sector, we have to put an overemphasis on our internal employees. We have to put an overemphasis on diverse, underrepresented groups as a benefit to what we’re trying to do to drive our mission forward, leaving nobody behind.”

At the foundation of branding, hiring and retaining is purpose-built technology, added Cairo. “We anticipate seeing a lot more spend on technology in governments,” he said. “That’s a truly unique opportunity for governments to change their employer brand proposition by changing their processes but also by introducing tools that allow you to attract and retain talent, and then get the data and introduce a process change that’s required for them to truly become an employer of the future.”

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