It’s May, and graduating college seniors are off into the world to find their first real job, but the vast majority of them will not be considering work in the federal government.
While hardly news — see this 2003 study that found college seniors averse to government work — focus continues to be placed on the inability of government agencies and institutions to recruit and retain talented Millennials.
In the 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers Survey of more than 35,000 students, just 2.3 percent said they intended to look for work in the federal government post-graduation. News articles and conference panels have explored the issue in more depth.
A piece in The Atlantic recently mused, “American wunderkinds once looked to politics to make a difference on issues like healthcare reform. Now they come to Google Ventures asking Bill Maris for money.”
Maris studied neuroscience in college, but ultimately chose Google over using his talents at, say, the NIH. Here’s what Maris had to say in that article about his choice:
“Thinking about government policy sends shivers up my spine. The gears are grinding together in government, and it’s slow and complicated and no one understands it.”
A panel discussion this week at the Excellence in Government conference identified other reasons, including work environment, communication barriers, lack of recognition, and career ladder promotions.
“One of the best ways to get ahead in government is to get old,” said Brandon Friedman, director of online communications at the Department of Veterans Affairs, bemoaning the notion that to reach Senior Executive Service level a young employee must stay in their current position for years.
Contrast that with the private sector where energy and growth surround startups, social media, and companies that can adapt much quicker to changing technology and cultural shifts than the government.
Not to mention those twentysomethings who are driven to create their own businesses and products.
“Commercial enterprises, when they’re successful, tend to make really big impacts and scale in a way that non-profits sometimes have a more difficult time doing,” Maris told The Atlantic.
Members of the Avue Government Advisory Board, comprised of former government executives of Democratic and Republican administrations, recently took up the issue of retaining the Millennials who do choose to work in government.
“When they come in, are we letting them work?” said Ira Hobbs, board chairman and former CIO at the Department of Treasury.
“A lot of times we’ll say, ‘well, you don’t know enough to do that,’ or ‘someone else needs to help you with that.’ Letting folks work to their potential and getting them engaged early in the organization is very critical.”
Sam Mok, managing member of the international business advisory firm Condor Consulting and former Chief Financial Officer for the U.S. Department of Labor said, “The biggest problem is that we spend a lot of time and effort to recruit young people, but after they come in we kind of just throw them to the wolves. There’s really no effective mentoring. We do have a lot of training programs, but we don’t manage the expectations realistically and effectively.”
Even so, Friedman said that government “values experience over talent.”
“Just stick around and you’ll move up,” he said, according to a story on FierceGovernment.com. “And no matter how talented you are in your 20s you’re not going to be in this senior level position.”
And even those Millennials who do apply are often treated harshly by the government’s arcane hiring process, government code speak in applications and the alphabet soup of job classifications.
Avue Co-CEO Linda E. Brooks Rix wrote in The Huffington Post, “Millennials seeking federal employment shouldn’t need a magic decoder ring just to be considered. …. If federal agencies truly want to recruit and attract smart, technically savvy, highly qualified college graduates into U.S. government employment, clean up the simple act of communication. It’s the first step toward making federal employment easier. Or else those highly desired candidates will move on, and you’ll continue to wonder why nearly 100 percent of graduating college seniors won’t be considering the U.S. government as the place to begin their careers.”