This interviewee was featured in our recent guide, Understanding State and Local Government. To read the guide, click here.
We’ve all heard about the aging workforce. The state of Pennsylvania is no exception to the statistics that tell us that well over a third of their workforce will be eligible to retire over the next five years. James Honchar, Pennsylvania’s Deputy Secretary for Human Resources and Management for the Office of Administration, warns of the incoming "silver tsunami" and the difficulties that come with it. However, he also brings messages of hope to the mix.
Honchar sat down with Emily Jarvis on GovLoop’s State and Local Spotlight to discuss the initiatives Pennsylvania has undertaken to recruit younger generations to work for the state government.
It isn’t as simple as a one to one replacement. “When you have a relatively larger increase in retirement you tend to get state and local governments who try to slow down the replacement of those individuals from a cost savings perspective,” Honchar said.
For example, between 2008 and 2014, Pennsylvania’s state workforce shrunk by over 3,000 employees. That’s 3,000 fewer salaried employees to account for over a six year period that were simply not replaced.
Additionally, states have to consider the cost of benefits to employees and the math adds up for Pennsylvania. “Pension, retirement and healthcare costs are dramatically increasing in the state of Pennsylvania, with some cases amounting to as high as 75 percent of an employee’s total compensation package,” said Honchar.
Governments cannot continue to provide the necessary services to their constituents without replacing retired employees, which is why Pennsylvania has started focusing on the generational switch.
The average age of an employee working for the state government of Pennsylvania is 37. This typically covers those who are mid-career or who are now in their second career (i.e. a previous career in the military or private sector). So, how can state governments encourage the younger generation to work for their respective states?
Honchar shared three initiatives that Pennsylvania has undertaken to address this problem:
- Hired an enterprise recruitment expert. The expert reports directly to the Secretary of the Office of Administration, and they are in charge of implementing a strategy that focuses on the generational recruitment initiative. The position requires someone with both private and public sector recruitment experience.
- Created a new internship program for commonwealth employment. The enterprise recruitment expert is in charge of the program, which allows university students in either their sophomore year or up to three years after they’ve graduated from college to have an internship with Pennsylvania’s state government. The internships are not career specific, but rather focus on bringing students in at the “grassroots level,” Honchar stated. The bonus (other than gaining some government experience to flaunt on a resume) is that the internship leads to a full-time, salaried position upon completion. The first class of 65 interns will start in the spring.
- Created a generational taskforce. The state reached out to current employees under the age of 30 and asked them to participate in a number of various activities including focus groups, recruitment strategy development sessions and more. One of the projects that came out of this taskforce was the first promotional video aimed at attracting the younger generation. To view it, click here.
Last, but certainly not least, how can state governments retain the institutional knowledge as one generational workforce exists and the other enters?
Pennsylvania created an untraditional version of the mentor/mentee relationship. Instead of helping individuals with their professional journey overall, this program works on passing down the knowledge from one professional, within the system, to another. It is a one year program and in order to graduate the pair has to come up with a knowledge transfer plan for anything from the dynamics of a work process to how to handle a policy change. “The exchange of information has been phenomenal. We’ve literally had the development of new systems that capture knowledge. In some cases, they’ve updated and revised procedure manuals,” Honchar said.
With these tactics, Pennsylvania is learning that the silver tsunami is nothing to fear. Each state should go about generational recruitment in ways that suit their specific needs. But the state of Pennsylvania has a lot of foundational knowledge to pass on, so why not use it?