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5 Talent Challenges Made Worse After the Shutdown

Monday, February 11, 2019

With the partial government shutdown now behind us, and another potential shutdown looming, the challenges facing HR and talent management leaders working in the federal sphere seem to have only magnified. Let’s take a closer look at a few.

1. Attracting Millennial Workers
The need to attract Millennials and compete for them is nothing new. Prior to the shutdown, only 17 percent of federal workers are younger than 35, compared to 40 percent in the private sector. But one of the government’s perceived advantages historically among this cohort has been job stability. After the shutdown, though, this advantage is a much harder sell. Indeed, thanks to the hardship stories that mounted over the course of the shutdown. I don’t see that 17 percent number rising any time soon.

2. Readying for the Silver Tsunami
For years, we’ve been hearing about how Baby Boomers will be retiring in waves. Agencies have feared how this will lead to a major brain drain that they cannot satisfactorily replace, at least not in a timely fashion. To date, the retirement tsunami has not materialized in the manner predicted. Yes, Boomers are leaving, but it has been more of a trickle than a wave. Currently, nearly a quarter of the federal workforce is older than 55. After the shutdown, at least anecdotally, more Baby Boomers are talking about retiring sooner rather than later.

3. Filling STEM and Cybersecurity Roles
As hard as it is to attract people for any role in most agencies, it is even tougher to find talented individuals to fill technical and cybersecurity job openings. A big part of this problem is the competition with the private sector, where salaries may be significantly higher. Another critical issue has been the length of time it takes to hire these professionals. The federal government has made inroads here, raising salaries and using direct hire authorities to expedite the hiring process so agencies can move through security clearances more quickly. But just like the issues with attracting Millennials, the battle against private-sector employers will be tougher post-shutdown thanks to the perceived (or real) increased instability of a government job.

4. Boosting Employee Engagement and Morale
As highlighted annually by the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey (FEVS), most federal agencies struggle with employee engagement and morale. As evidenced by reporting throughout the government shutdown, this struggle will not become any easier, but likely grow. In fact, a recent online survey by Federal News Network reported that 51 percent of the respondents indicate that their feelings and those of their co-workers about their job and their agency would worsen.

5. Retaining Federal Workers
Related to engagement is the challenge of retaining employees. As the shutdown continued, we saw several news stories about federal employees who were contemplating a move to the private sector. While many of these people have a strong desire to serve their communities and country by working in federal agencies, the desire to feed their families is even stronger. Leaders need to realize that even workers highly motivated by their agency’s mission will be leaving. Certainly, high attention needs to be paid to employee retention, especially in today’s tight labor market, where federal workers have more options.

No doubt, everyone is extremely happy that federal employees are back at work. But with the government reopening, the human capital challenges that have been brewing for years seem to have grown exponentially. Now, more than ever, HR and talent management leaders need to consider how they will address these issues moving forward.

Editor’s Note: This post is adapted from an article on the Acendre Blog, which offers workforce performance news and insight for the federal workforce.

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About the Author

Joe Abusamra is vice president of product marketing at Acendre.

1 Comment
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I resigned my contract cyber security position with a federal agency, which I'd held for eighth years, because the shutdown was a total financial loss. In my former team, contractors did the bulk of the work. There is an important distinction between contractor and civil servants, the latter of whom have been made whole financially after government shutdowns.
I chose to quit rather than volunteering to be a political hostage in another shutdown. I
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