US Federal building (Source Pixabay/DEZALB under CCO)The attrition in the federal government increased in 2021 to 6.1%, with a whopping 9.8% for those under 30, according to a new report from the Partnership for Public Service that looked at voluntary quits and retirements. Worryingly while only 6.8% of full-time federal employees are under 30, about a third can retire by the end of fiscal 2023. 83% of agencies are struggling with staffing shortages. Qualtrics has now published a study highlighting the issues faced by federal agencies aiming to recruit graduates. The key statistic from the study is that 44% of recent graduates said they would consider federal employment.  With 85,000 job openings across the federal government, something has to be done.

Key takeouts

The report calls out several reasons for graduates’ viewpoints.

  • 20% of graduate respondents said they were not aware of federal jobs
  • 30% said the hiring process is too complicated
  • 36% of graduates would not apply to federal jobs because they feel underqualified

The report also looks at what graduates expect from their next employer. Recent graduates cited:

  • Work-life balance first (40%)
  • Flexible work arrangements (29%)
  • Job security (27%)
  • Good track record of social responsibility (22%)
  • A strong reputation for services (22%)
  • A diverse leadership team (17%)

While graduates appear socially aware and now expect flexible working, college students have slightly different priorities.

  • College students ranked work-life balance first (40%)
  • Pay & compensation (39%)
  • The opportunity to do meaningful work (28%)
Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry advisor for government at Qualtrics
Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry advisor for government at Qualtrics

Sydney Heimbrock, chief industry advisor for government at Qualtrics, commented: “The work of the federal government is so crucial to all of our lives – and our country needs the best of the best applying and interviewing for the tens of thousands of open roles. The federal government hires for a wide variety of occupations, and the work is flexible and impactful. This study makes clear that targeted improvements to federal agency recruiting – even simple fixes like promoting flexible work and career progression, emphasizing the mission-oriented nature of the work and rewriting job announcements to replace required years of experience with required skills – can have meaningful impact on who is aware of open positions and who decides to apply.”

The report

The report itself is 33 pages in length and contains a mix of statistics, analysis and images. It begins with an executive summary and has three sections.

  • What we heard: Students and graduates are not considering government jobs
  • Insight & Action: Final recommendations from our experts
  • Improve recruitment metrics with experience management

The report is based on a survey of 1,129 Americans aged 18+ who were currently or recently in post-secondary education.

The first section highlighted some interesting findings that federal agencies should note.

While 40% of graduates would consider federal jobs, only 16% of vocational trainees would. Considering that 70% of federal jobs do not require a degree, this isn’t reassuring. The report also highlights the barriers to applying for federal jobs. For graduates, the top three are:

  • Years of experience (35%)
  • Required Skills (25%)
  • Inflexible working arrangements (23%)

While the report also highlights some of the rarer and more amusing reasons for graduates not applying, which were:

  • “Drug testing”
  • “I have a criminal background”
  • “Do not trust the government”

Is diversity in Federal Government an issue?

At a time when corporations and governments are opening their doors to minorities, there is still a big difference between graduates from different minorities.

49% of whites would consider applying, but only 42% of Black or African American graduates, 43% of Hispanic or Latinx graduates and 30% of Asian graduates would.

Delivering services to residents equitably and effectively requires a diverse government workforce representing the population. Yet the Qualtrics study found that minority graduates were even less likely to consider federal employment – only 40% said they would. Among minority students, 34% said they would consider federal employment, and 37% were undecided. The authors call out executive order 13985, which mandates the advance of diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in the federal government. Clearly, something is amiss.

According to Angela Bailey, former chief human capital officer for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and strategic advisor to Qualtrics: “To meet minority students and graduates where and how they want to live and work, federal agencies need to create recruiting strategies that provide opportunities for folks to see themselves working in the agency – from being intentional about who engages with them at hiring events, to realistic job previews that show them how their values and goals align with the agency’s mission. Pay policies will need to address the value of the skills an agency is seeking rather than rely on outdated compensation models to compete for minority, early-career, skilled workers. Agency leaders can take this early talent feedback to make meaningful changes today to build their talent pipelines.”  

What should happen

The final two sections are shorter and provide a call to action from Bailey, Heimbrock and Jenna Milani, PhD, global head of research, government at Qualtrics. They suggest how the federal government can change their approach to recruitment, focussing on skills rather than qualifications. While the government has a long history of offering a haven to minorities, the findings reflect the general distrust of the government by those same minorities. They advocate that the federal government needs to listen better. Qualtrics believes that it has the answer to this with its experience management solutions.

Enterprise Times: What does this mean

This fascinating report highlights some of the recruitment issues faced by the federal in the US. Do other governments around the world face these same challenges? For example, there are challenges in the UK that show how nuanced the issue is across different departments. A UK Government report stated: “In 2019, the department with the highest levels of ethnic diversity is the Department for Health and Social Care, where 12.8% of senior civil servants came from an ethnic minority background. In contrast, only 2.2% of senior civil servants at the Ministry of Defence came from an ethnic minority background.”

Technology alone is not the only thing that needs to happen. Some changes should be made in federal agencies to help attract younger talent. Technology should help to understand better where discrimination may lie. However, the issue is present in the wider population, and it is one of the world’s biggest challenges. The human population is diverse, but we are still all humans.

The sad thing is that the federal government, already under pressure, is missing out on the next generation of talent. The decline needs to stop, and attitudes toward recruitment need to change, as they are in the private sector that is waking up to what the next generation wants from their employers.


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