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The Future of Work: Finding the Next Generation of Public Servants

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(From left) City of Columbus Auditor Megan Kilgore; Stephen Francis, president and lead strategist at Franchise D&I Solutions; and Lisa Patt-McDaniel, CEO of the Workforce Development Board of Central Ohio, discuss the future of work in public service at the Glenn College Leadership Forum last fall.

Featured Experts

Stephen Francis
President and Lead Strategist, Franchise D&I Solutions
Josh Hawley
Director, Ohio Education Research Center
Megan Kilgore
Auditor, City of Columbus
By Joan Slattery Wall

The Great Resignation. Quiet quitting. A generational divide. Baby boomer retirements. Amidst today’s workforce challenges, how can we find — and retain — employees in public service and administration?

One of the issues facing the workforce is a lack of turnover.

“Most of the government workforce is older and more experienced, and they’ve not been replaced with the same level of people. When there are vacancies, agencies are not attracting enough good candidates in many ways,” said Josh Hawley director of the Ohio Education Research Center (OERC), a unit of the John Glenn College of Public Affairs.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing a gap of employees between the more experienced generation and new hires.

James White Sr.
President, Performance Consulting Services

“The problem with having so few people in the middle layer of 30- and 40-year-olds is that when the 60-year-olds leave, you’re leaving the agency or division to the youngest without any supervision,” Hawley said, “and they may or may not have the skillset to manage it.”

In addition, churn in the labor market continues.

“It’s basically the difference between a job and a career. It’s a known fact in labor economics that people, especially at the lower end of market, will move if they get a 25-cent increase, because it’s significant for them,” Hawley explained.

At the 2022 Glenn College Leadership Forum for leaders in public management and the nonprofit sector, Glenn College instructors Stephen Francis, president and lead strategist at Franchise D&I Solutions; City of Columbus Auditor Megan Kilgore; and James White Sr., president of Performance Consulting Services, addressed challenges and solutions in the public sector workforce. They and Hawley share their insights.

Show Purpose

“The public sector is aging, and its systems are archaic. That’s a problem in attracting millennials,” said Francis. 

When Kilgore recruits employees, she aims to fuel their passion.

“My perk when I’m hiring someone is purpose,” she said, noting that the field gives people the opportunity to solve the world’s problems.

The perk of public service is purpose.

Megan Kilgore
Auditor, City of Columbus

In surveys Kilgore conducts of students and interns, they tell her: Government hiring seems opaque and uncertain. They want to know what makes the role so special. And your interns can be your own ambassadors to tell recruits why your organization is a good workplace.

Kilgore and Francis said public sector employers also need to work more collaboratively with unions to find the right talent.

“I have found the best way forward is a lot of conversation and cooperation,” Kilgore said. “It starts at times with the leaders of unions.”

In addition, Kilgore said, job descriptions need to more accurately reflect the workplace. She has intentionally tested the titles of different jobs to improve outcomes.

Avoid posting jobs on government portals,” Francis said. Instead, find a pipeline that represents the employees you want to hire.

We have to revolutionize how we look at job postings and where we post them.

Stephen Francis
President and Lead Strategist, Franchise D&I Solutions

“If a job description says, ‘minimum five years of experience required,’ ask, ‘Why?’” Francis said. “That’s the way it’s always been done” or “That’s what I had when I started that job” are not good answers.

“The older generation needs to give youngsters the chance to demonstrate new things,” Francis said. “If they fail, they learn. But if they succeed, the organization learns and improves.”

Foster Engagement and Flexibility

Hawley cautions that recruiting young employees is only part of the problem.

Retention is a much bigger problem than attraction,” Hawley said. “That’s true doubly in the public sector because the hiring rate is so low.”

The reality is most of the workforce you need 10 years from now is already working for you.

Josh Hawley
Director, Ohio Education Research Center, Glenn College

After they’ve joined your organization, offer a growth mode for employees.

“Everyone in your organization should have a professional development plan,” White said.

Find ways to provide psychological safety to bridge generational divides.

“Manifesting inclusion means employees all have equal advantages, are appreciated, are empowered to be fully authentic, and are fully informed, included and engaged and motivated,” White said.

Kilgore wishes she had understood change management early in her career the way she does now.

“I hit a lot of roadblocks. I couldn’t empathize as well as I can now,” she said. “People ask, ‘How will it affect my job, and how will it affect the people closest to me?’”

Hawley offers a set of solutions to encourage retention:

  • Raise wages. People who have been in their job a long time tend to be in lower tiers of their pay range.
  • Provide greater flexibility. This is particularly true for people who are trying to step back from work or are trying to transition from a technical role to a managerial role. Rather than enabling employees to retire and then return to their jobs, offer options for them to gradually step back from their work. Also consider adding flexibility when designing jobs, which Hawley says agencies don’t tend to do because they are restricted by rules. People can feel locked in doing jobs that are woefully mismatched with their official job duties over time.
  • Reduce the jobs you are contracting out. “Hiring contractors is probably not as cost effective and helpful as many organizations think it is,” Hawley explains. “It can be a lot more cost effective to invest in hiring real staff and then using the subcontractors to do defined projects instead of contracting out jobs.”

Provide Visionary Leadership

“People coming into the workforce need visionary leadership,” Francis said. “Managers do things better. Leaders do better things.”

A manager does things right. A leader does the right thing.

Stephen Francis
President and Lead Strategist, Franchise D&I Solutions

“Inclusive leadership sets the tone for an open, welcoming and safe environment where people feel like they belong,” Francis said.

Leaders need to ask themselves if they have enough variables in their workforce to assist them in making decisions that will positively impact all of their clients, White said.

Stop using the term ‘diversity.’ Start using the term ‘inclusion intelligence.'

James White Sr.
President, Performance Consulting Services

Management Advancement for the Public Service

For more than 50 years, public and nonprofit professionals have relied on the Glenn College MAPS program, Management Advancement for the Public Service, to become better leaders. Each one-day course is designed to sharpen your skills, prepare you for the next step in your career and nurture your passion for public service.

Learn more about MAPS.

White explains that ‘inclusion intelligence’ means consistently and successfully incorporating others into the group, regardless of their diverse make-up. It is based on habits of being fair, open, cooperative, supportive and empowering. Pulling collective intelligence from everyone leads to more productivity.

“Leverage inclusion as an organization tool,” White said. “When you do that, people feel valued, respected and appreciated. They feel like they want to give more, more, more and more.”

Explore professional development programs offered by the Glenn College.