I Have to Ask You: A Welcoming Environment?

I Have to Ask You: A Welcoming Environment?

In this series, guest columnists respond to one of three topics selected by ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt. This week Madison Thesing, City of Hillsboro, Oregon, tackles whether local government is doing enough to develop the future workforce.


Question: Is local government a welcoming environment for young professionals? Where do we succeed? Areas for improvement?

I have been kicking around how I wanted to answer this question for weeks and have had one too many drafts (thank you for your patience, Kent). I began with thinking about what local government is today and it quickly became more negative than I had intended, perhaps a little too #Mword entitled. I think we can agree that there is room for improvement in local government to be more welcoming to young professionals.

However, instead of focusing on the landscape of acceptance in today’s workforce, I should focus on what local government could be in the future. The positive impact and the opportunity to make change that local government provides is too vast to focus on the negative.

Here is my vision of what local government could do to become more welcoming to young professionals:

  • Hire for potential versus years of experience. The workforce is drastically changing and very few people are staying in one organization their whole career. This trend can be found in all sectors. In order to adapt, we should value and seek applicants with potential, possessing core soft skills and transferable skills, as well as the drive to learn. This would not only be welcoming to young professionals, but also to applicants who are joining local government later in their career.
  • View young professionals as your in-house succession planning. There is a lifecycle for organizations and young professionals play a key role in that lifecycle. Let’s prioritize creating programs that attract young professionals, developing employees within organizations, and planning for turnover and retirements. We will never have a sleepless night over the Silver Tsunami again!
  • Celebrate employment growth. Turnover is the reality of the workforce, but it does not happen as much as we think. We should be able to plan and celebrate employment growth. We too often focus on the time and resources invested in employees who may leave. Rather, we should focus on the positives of developing an employee who may grow out of their role. In fact, it should be a priority to train and develop employees so that they can grow out of their roles. This creates space for the next up-and-comer, drives efficiency and success, and promotes a culture of growth. Then, we can celebrate our former employees/coworkers who have become great partners and leaders in our neighboring community.  
  • Explore new incentive packages. Local government is competing with the private sector for new hires and it is not necessarily a bad thing. With the changing workforce, job seekers are looking across all sectors for job opportunities and weighing them for more than just salary. It might be true that young professionals are looking for more flexible work schedules, telecommute options, and merit pay opportunities. But most other employees are too!
  • Welcome those purpose-loving young professionals! If you believe in the #Mword stereotypes, there is a WHOLE generation looking for impactful work. Local government is the PERFECT career tract for people wanting to make a difference. We should be marketing and showcasing the amazing opportunities that local government can provide, like #ELGLInspire. If those young professional are hungry and driven by purpose, I think we should hire all the herds of #Mwords imaginable!

Lastly, if you are a young professional in the midst of navigating these tricky waters today, these are my takeaways from the last few years:

  • Find support outside your organization. I have a great group of friends that I chat with regularly about work. We are in the same stages of our careers and it’s reassuring to hear about the young professional dynamic happening in other organizations/job fields. We are all excited for the future and being a part of positive change.
  • Learn to tune the noise out. If you are experiencing negative comments or remarks, ignore it. Most of comments are not worth your time or energy.
  • When deciding on a job, prioritize the leaders whose values align with yours, not job title or duties. I was recently reminded of this by the great Parks Queen Kylie. Your job title will not get you out of bed, instead the vision and purpose that a leader can instill will.
  • If the environment will not change, move on. Simply do not waste your time or be dampened by bad organizational culture. As a young professional, we have the flexibility and time to keep trying until we find the right fit.

Supplemental Reading