Data and the Evolving Public Sector Workforce
The workforce of public organizations stands at a crossroads. One one hand, the large-scale retirement of Baby Boomer employees — the so-called “Silver Tsunami” — creates enormous urgency to hire new talent. At the same time, public leaders know that new skills, particularly in data analysis and technology, are needed to take advantage of the enormous potential of data to transform how public services are delivered. To address these challenges, public sector leaders need to rethink their strategies for workforce management, while making data the centerpiece of how to grow, retain, and upskill all personnel for today’s needs.
The Silver Tsunami and New Millennial Workforce
The Silver Tsunami and its effects on all levels of the government workforce are widely documented. National Association of State Personnel Executives Executive Director, Leslie Scott, noted in this Pew Charitable Trusts Article, Beating the Brain Drain: States Focus on Retaining Older Workers, that 30 to 40 percent of state workers are currently eligible for retirement. This trajectory shows no signs of slowing, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that over a quarter of the entire U.S. workforce will be over age 55 by 2022. In addition, retirement-eligible government workers are accelerating their retirement dates, reversing an earlier pattern of workers pushing back retirement in the aftermath of the Great Recession.
More than a quarter of the entire U.S. workforce will be over age 55 by 2022 —The Bureau of Labor Statistics
While millennials are the logical incoming workforce needed to fill the draining talent pool, they have not been flocking to these openings. According to GCN’s article, How to Survive the Silver Tsunami, the percentage of millennials in federal government jobs has fallen, and lags behind private sector employment. For all levels of public service, a correction or evolution in hiring and retention practices is needed in order to respond to the career pathways and passions of this new workforce.
Eric Roche, Chief Data Officer of Kansas City, Missouri, talked about this recently with Socrata. “The private sector has moved to hiring so quickly in the data and tech departments, and the norm is for people with advanced skill sets to change jobs every one or two years,” Roche said. “We haven’t found a way to adjust to that in the government side of things. As traditional career paths and human resources practices evolve in the private sector, we are watching the experimentation going on and waiting to see what sticks.”
““The private sector has moved to hiring so quickly in the data and tech departments, and the norm is for people with advanced skill sets to change jobs every one or two years. We haven’t found a way to adjust to that in the government side of things.” —Eric Roche, CDO, Kansas City, Missouri
Indeed, the whole paradigm of the modern civil service program — holding a job for life at modest pay but significant post-retirement pension compensation — no longer fits with the current situation. Not only are millennials now paying the balloon payments on that outdated compensation structure, they have an expectation of mobility in careers as well as location.
Empowering the Evolving Workforce with Data Skills
The cliché of governments doing more with less does not accurately represent the on-the-ground reality. What governments must achieve for sustainability and success is to do things differently with less. Not only can governments not expect to replace today’s attrition, leaders need to have a broader adaptation strategy.
What governments must achieve for sustainability and success is to do things differently with less.
Governments simply need to accept that they will operate with fewer people. The challenge, then, is to use data to innovate and to empower the people who are there, because they are skilled, eager, and mobile in a competitive talent market.
Massachusetts State Comptroller, Tom Shack, summed it up this way at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ 2017 Conference: “No one is going to hire their way out of the Silver Tsunami. We’re going to have to tech our way out of it.”
Data can be used to recruit the best employees. It can also help identify what factors cause good employees to leave an agency, so those issues can be addressed and resolved.
Data, for example, can be used to recruit the best employees. This Bloomberg Cities article examined The Behavioral Insights Team’s work in using A/B testing to recruit police officers by testing job advertisement language as well as approaches to keep candidates involved throughout the entire recruitment process. Data can also be used to identify what factors cause good employees to leave an agency, so that those issues can be addressed and resolved before turnover occurs.
Leveling up existing employees with modern tools can be achieved in many ways, including through data academies hosted in-house or as part of broader initiatives. Beth Simone Noveck of NYU GovLab recently wrote on the importance and wide availability of training in a Governing article, Why Policymakers Should Learn to be Data Analysts. The Socrata Data Academy has engaged nearly 500 students through in-person and online workshops to date. The Academy exists to empower government leaders to leverage data using the right tools to boost their program delivery and outcomes. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offer another training alternative at little to no cost to agencies.
Especially in periods of workforce transition, data is central to moving from challenge to opportunity. Socrata’s recent paper, The Public Sector Skills Gap: Empowerment through Data in a Time of Change, examines data’s role in addressing the Silver Tsunami, efficient service delivery, and the skills needed to move raw data to actionable insight.