Recruiting, retaining young workers a challenge for agencies

Tuesday - 7/8/2014, 10:38am EDT

Listen to Tim McManus' interview on In Depth.

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Listen to Virginia Hill's interview on In Depth.

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Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic in the federal workforce. President Barack Obama recently prepared an executive order extending workplace protections to transgender federal employees. Last year, the Pentagon ordered services to open more combat positions to women.

But what about age diversity?

Agencies' scales tip strongly in the direction of older workers. The percentage of millennials in the federal workforce fell to 7 percent in 2013 — an eight-year low. This compares to about 23 percent in the private sector workforce.

"If you don't have a significant representation of that demographic group, you actually are going to lose some things just in the approach and the way of thinking," said Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership for Public Service, on In Depth with Francis Rose.

But he said that doesn't mean agencies should just recruit young talent for the sake of it.

"Despite the fact that there's 23 percent in the U.S. workforce, what's the right number for government? Is it 23 percent? It may not be," he said.

No matter what the ideal or "right" percentage is, McManus said 7 percent is certainly too low.

To recruit younger employees, agencies have to cater to the millennial demographic.

The State Department launched a mobile career app that notifies users of job openings.

NASA produced a YouTube video called "NASA Johnson Style." The video parodies the viral "Gangnam Style" music video and showcases a workday at Houston's Johnson Space Center.

Internship programs allow agencies to introduce their work and missions to university students and recent graduates. The Office of Personnel Management launched the Pathways internship program in 2012 to help agencies bring in new talent.

"They're going to get a good sense of what that agency is all about, and you're going to get a good sense — a great sense — of whether or not they're the right fit for your agency," McManus said.

Virginia Hill, president of Young Government Leaders, said making a candidate feel comfortable is important during the interview process.

"You want to be selling to them just as much as they're selling themselves when they come into the interview," she said on In Depth with Francis Rose. "How am I providing a good impression to this person?"

Hill said making a good impression can be as simple as welcoming the person and meeting them at the visitors' entrance.

But getting younger employees into the federal workforce is only one piece of the puzzle. Retention is another key factor to create a more age-balanced workforce.

According to the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey, employees under 30 are more likely to leave government than other age demographics.

"We have to understand that one of the biggest drivers of what young people are actually looking for in a career is an opportunity to make a difference," McManus said. "They're mission-driven. ... We have to deliver on what we've promised."

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