Millennials in Government: By the Numbers

It’s time for millennials to take over government. In the public sector, older generations are retiring quickly, and agencies are falling behind in adapting to new technologies and innovations. By recruiting and hiring millennials, agencies can solve both of these issues so they can continue to deliver on their missions.

That’s why First 5 took a look at the Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) FedScope database to see how millennials are currently represented in the federal government. We analyzed agency workforces, new hires, employee education levels, STEM employees and minority employment to see which agencies best recruit and retain millennial talent. For the purposes of this analysis, we defined millennials as employees between the ages of 20 and 34. We also included part time and temporary employees because many millennials serve in short term internships or contract positions.first-5-icon-07-225x225-1

We started by calculating the percent of each cabinet level agency that was between 20 and 34 years old and found that on average, millennials made up 17.75 percent of agency employees. The highest percentage of millennial employment was at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) where 23.9 percent of all employees are millennials.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Interior (DOI) also have high percentages of millennials in their workforces where 23.5 and 22.6 percent of employees are millennials, respectively. Increasing the percent of millennials in an agency will inherently help incorporate new perspectives into the organizational culture and processes. This, in turn, will help government modernize and recruit millennials in the future.

To expand the millennial workforce in an agency, leaders will need to evaluate how their hiring processes are recruiting and attracting millennials. Are they offering telework and flexibile schedule opportunities? Do they have professional development and training programs?

We examined the accessions data for cabinet level agencies over the last six fiscal years and found that the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture had the highest percentages of millennials among new employees with 70.2 percent and 62.3 percent, respectively. The percent of millennials in government may increase organically as older generations retire, but agencies should continuously examine which benefits or cultural aspects best entice millennial applicants.

In many instances, millennials explore federal government positions because of student loan forgiveness programs. Agencies use these programs, along with strategic partnerships on campus, to recruit millennials for internships and entry-level positions. We compiled the percent of millennial employees with bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate degrees and found that, on average, these groups made up 40 percent of each cabinet level agency’s millennial workforce.

Specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services had the highest percent of millennials with a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate, with 58.1 percent of millennials with holding a degree. Fifty-seven percent of millenials at the Department of Commerce had degrees, and 55.5 percent of millennials at the Department of Veterans Affairs had degrees. Building relationships with students, professors, and career advisors on campus will ensure that agencies are recruiting the best and brightest for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) positions, in particular, because these fields require extensive training and knowledge.

Although many agencies don’t need a high number of STEM employees to fulfill their missions, millennials with STEM skills can innovate government and society. Some agencies, particularly those associated with the military, are successfully recruiting and employing millennials with STEM skills according to the employment data.

Of 53,379 employees in STEM positions at the Department of Navy, 27.8 percent were millennials. Of the 25,658 STEM employees at the Department of the Air Force, 21 percent were millennials.

Missions of various agencies may differ, but employing millennials in STEM positions will ensure that digital natives are determining policy for the 21st century.

Lastly, we looked at how well minority employees are represented in the millennial federal workforce. Fedscope’s Ethnicity and Race Indicator defines minority employees as those that are American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino or more than one race.

On average, minority employees made up 36.3 percent of millennial cohorts at agencies. Although the Department of Education employs a relatively low number of millennials (711), 52.7 percent of staff members between 20 and 34 years old were minorities. Similarly, minority employees made up 51.9 percent of millennials at Department of Homeland Security. Adding diversity to an agency workforce helps civil servants incorporate a diverse set of opinions and better serve a diverse population; whether that involves brining in younger employees, minority employees or both.

Despite the hiring freeze and the difficulties of the federal hiring process, it is increasingly important to get millennials into government. Although agencies may have different workforce needs, millennials benefit from public service and bring new ideas and skill sets that innovate agencies. Employment numbers may not tell the full story of millennial experiences in government, but hiring more millennials can still be a priority for the new administration. Young employees can change agencies from the inside out which can help agencies better deliver on their missions for the American people.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Bill McFadden

As older workers retire, younger workers are going to need to take a more prominent role. Government hiring tends to take place on a continuous level but at an uneven pace. For example there was a heavy volume of hiring in the late 1960s, early 1970s when the federal government was expanding. There was also a heavy hiring volume during the 1980s during the DOD build-up. Since approximately 1990 hiring has been done at a more uneven pace . Ideally agencies should plan for succession so that younger workers are in place and up to speed as the older workers retire and move on.

Irene Keegan-Gallagher

While I take personal exception to the comment “It’s time for millennials to take over government” because I am on the tailend of the Boomer generation, I also see the need for the more experienced employees (Boomers and GenXers alike) to take a hand in Mentoring & actively coaching the less work experienced Millennials. As with all work environments, 10, 15, 20, 30+ years of experience (especially mixed industry experience) still has a lot to offer to the public sector. I, myself find it difficult to work with the government employees who have been in the public system all of the worklife. It is very easy to become “institutionalized” when one stays in the same environment and does not experience new things. Hence; I say gently and kindly, that same thing happens with employees who have little to no experience. High school to college to maybe one or two jobs does not provide the wealth of knowledge and experience needed to make the long-term, strategic and sustainable changes needed in the public sector. So I propose instead the following: “Millenials it is time to step-up to the plate and PREPARE to lead the game”. Find a few mentors/coaches who are willing to share their knowledge with you (one isn’t enough). Take what you learn from them and use it to formulate your ideas and make your decisions; learn to be strategic for the long haul. You see you still have another 30 years to go in your work life and in the future you will have to live with what you create now. Are you ready for that end?