Attracting Talent

ARTICLE | Feb 22, 2016

Research Recommends Steps to Take

Managers probably have had one of their most valued and tenured employees walk into their office to have “the talk.” This conversation might have taken place due to retirement or because the employee was unhappy in his or her position, was offered higher pay elsewhere, or found a company that better fits future goals and aspirations.

Good for the staff person! Now what about you, as manager, and your local government organization? How might you recruit the next top talent who is the right fit for your organization?

What is the workforce of tomorrow looking for from an employer? Is your organization capable of recruiting and retaining the workforce of the future?

Key Organizational Changes

The Local Government Research Collaborative—a network of 20 local governments and universities from Canada and the United States—selected the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) in Washington, D.C., to research the challenges local governments face when it comes to attracting the next generation of talent.

Known factors play into the sense of urgency on the topic, including the high rates of baby boomers retiring as well as increased competition from both nonprofit and private sectors.

The landscape, however, is complex because most local government organizations haven’t changed, unlike the expectations that younger generations hold about government, workplace, and work/life balance.

Through researching the literature and surveying local government leaders, human resource experts, and the in-college potential workforce, the Workforce of the Future highlighted several conclusions in its executive summary:

  • Reinvent human resources to become more flexible, nimble, creative, can-do, strategic, and staffed by skilled employees who champion people management issues and set the workforce agenda. The local government manager should be a key advocate for this transformation.
  • Revamp such antiquated policies and practices as the old-fashioned job descriptions and titles or the process used to recruit new applicants to meet the needs and expectations of a changing workforce and to compete successfully in the talent race.
  • Make government an employer of choice by building a brand that tells the great story of public service.

  • Focus on talent management, leadership development, and succession planning to prepare for workforce transitions, build needed bench strength, and grow future leaders.

  • Create a culture that values and engages employees in meaningful ways.

  • Leverage technology data and automation to improve government operations and provide employees with the tools they need to be highly productive and successful.


Solutions in the Works

For some local government organizations, the mentioned recommendations may seem fairly difficult to implement, while others have already joined the talent race.

  • Dallas, Texas, has begun reinventing human resources by creating a new automated employee self-service portal that has enhanced the traditional services of its HR department, including payroll and benefits.

  • The new system can access policies and procedures and has the ability to update and print important personnel documents. It quickly connects staff to HR Service Center staff. Results include increased productivity and a reduction of labor cost.

  • In order to improve bench strength in multilingualism, Adams County, Colorado, recently implemented a pilot program that included 100 licenses for the language-learning program Rosetta Stone, which sold out to employees in 45 seconds.

    With one of the largest Hispanic populations in the state, this program will inform the county about how to better support its bilingual residents while providing an employee benefit that was previously unavailable.

  • With a focus on engaging employees, the Tyler, Texas, “After Action Team” was designed to address the seven lowest scoring topics indicated by Tyler’s employee satisfaction and engagement survey. The survey recently yielded 88 percent feedback from staff, a record high for the organization.

    Once improvements recommended by the team were implemented by employee committees, the benchmark percentile mean score in several categories increased markedly: professional conduct, from 58 to 82; culture and climate, from 67 to 74; morale, from 58 to 65; management style from 63 to 69; and creativity, from 66 to 71.

  • Edmonton, Alberta, is helping make local government an employer of choice by announcing job openings on Facebook, interacting with potential applicants through that platform, and coaching applicants on how to be competitive for a position.

    Becoming an employer of choice involves marketing government as a great place to work, along with using a branding strategy that defines the meaning and value the organization provides to potential employees. Edmonton uses its Facebook page ( to attract new talent through a great branding strategy that has attracted 96,599 fans, including residents and people from across the county that now monitor the Facebook page for upcoming job opportunities.


Becoming an Employer of Choice

Contrary to popular belief, the research revealed that the next generation is interested in working for local government despite budgetary challenges and outdated practices. The study showed that the key aspirational factor in their interest to work for local government is the potential to make a difference in their communities.

Which leaves the question for local government employers: How can they create that experience for their future leaders? Will they enable flexibility as a trade-off for meeting clear goals and deadlines or purchase another time clock system to hound people about their timeliness?

Will they continue to reach out to folks who’ve had success in the field for 30-plus years to fill vacancies, or will they venture to trust the next 30-year-old to be the next leader? The choice needs to be made, and the clock is ticking.

Year by year, local governments will be faced with challenges of becoming an employer of choice at a time when local government services will continue to remain critical to residents.

Stafford, Virginia, after reviewing SLGE’s draft report, did a simple internal study of its current workforce and found these staff demographics:


Traditionalists (born prior to 1946): 0.9%

Baby boomers (born 1946 to 1964): 33%

Generation X (born 1965 to 1976): 28.9%

Millennials (born 1977 to1997): 37.2%


Whether your workforce matches theirs is not the point. The real point is to understand that you likely have candidates within your organization now who could help you modify outdated policies and procedures, expand opportunities for involvement on challenging projects, and spread the word that your organization is a great place to work. Getting HR leaders on board for this is critical, and if they can’t, they need to get out of the way.

The Alliance for Innovation intends to walk the talk in the report with our membership. We will be sponsoring a series of “Workforce Wednesday” events during 2016 to encourage local government intergenerational conversations.

These talks, we hope, will open up a dialogue among staff on how the workplace can evolve to be more welcoming to younger employees while passing on the experiential wisdom of those who have been on the job for decades.

Read more on the recommendations and research provided at


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