Get Ready! Winning the Local Government Talent Race

Posted on June 6, 2016

By: Toni Shope, Strategic Initiatives Director (LinkedIn & Twitter)
Alliance for Innovation

toni shope

“Talented people need organizations a lot less than organizations need talented people” – Daniel Pink


Public Servant…job is more than a paycheck, motivated by meaningful work, and a strong passion to make a difference in the world. Can you relate? How does local government retain professionals like yourself and attract more like you?

old muppetsOver the last 20 years, we know the local government workforce is getting older, staying in their positions longer and becoming better educated. As baby boomers retire this creates a significant challenge on local governments to attract the nomadic workforce and compete with the non-profit and private sector to become the “employer of choice.” In 2015, the Local Government Research Collaborative (LGRC), partnering with the Center for State and Local Government Excellence, set out to discover how local governments can win the talent race.

According to a survey conducted during the LGRC’s research, most graduate and undergraduate students hold a favorable opinion of local government and the intention to pursue a career in the profession. However, local government bureaucracy, lack of flexibility, slow hiring and a greater interest in the non-profit sector are contributing factors for considering other career paths. Half of the survey respondents indicate they will work in local government for five years or less and plan to work in a variety of sectors throughout their career.

coolStudents expressed the importance of gaining relevant job experience through internships and having opportunities to continue growing professionally once employed. Rebecca Ryan, in her “Cool Communities” research, tells us that young workers are more likely to remain in a community if they are engaged. Local governments are well positioned to fill this need by providing the younger workforce opportunities to make a direct impact and a difference on citizens in the community they live. But internally local governments must adapt to attract and retain the workforce of the future.

Currently, there are four to five different generations working side by side in organizations and it is critical to welcome these generational preferences including communication styles, learning methods and cultural values. Gender diversity is also on the minds of local government organizations. Mentoring programs, increasing awareness of gender biases, formal and informal gatherings, and integrating gender issues in organizations are a few strategies local governments are pursing to advance women in the profession.

Mentioned earlier, the local government workforce is aging and as baby boomers reach retirement age many are choosing to continue working. This is causing frustration among the younger workforce as they seek career progression and due to the squeeze are looking for opportunities outside of local government. But don’t give up on those who leave local government! Building relationships with education institutions and other sectors in your community increases the opportunity to attract and re-attract individuals into public service.

renegotiate social contractWe hear a lot of buzz on “the new social contract.” This new contract requires local government to shift away from a workplace culture that values job security, adequate salary and generous benefits to one that invest in the employee to help them advance their career and create work-life balance. Compensation is important as the next generation is entering the workforce with higher levels of student debt than previous generations. But perhaps equally or more important to the next generation is upward mobility, an engaging and collaborative work environment, workplace flexibility on when and how their work is done, and training and professional development opportunities. They also have high expectations around technology in the workplace both in terms of how it increases their productivity and provides efficient service delivery.

The sense of urgency to attract future generations into local government calls us to take a step forward. Obviously this is hard work and transformation will not occur overnight. The “Workforce of Tomorrow” report recommends six action strategies to help your organization move in a direction to build your workforce of tomorrow.

  1. Reinvent human resources to become more flexible, nimble, and strategic. Seek staff who champion people management issues and can set the workforce agenda.
  2. Revamp antiquated policies and practices to meet the needs and expectations of a changing workforce.
  3. Build a brand that tells the great story of public service
  4. Focus on talent management, leadership development, and succession planning to prepare for workforce transitions, build capacity, and grow future leaders.
  5. Create a culture that values and engages employees in meaningful ways.
  6. Leverage technology, data, and automation to improve operations and provide employees with the tools they need.


#WorkforceWednesday – Your Chance to Get Involved

alliance for innovation twitter aviWith the goal of sparking a conversation in local government organizations and to raise awareness around the action steps, the Alliance launched #WorkforceWednesday in April. Each month we will spotlight a specific action step and engage local government professionals around a specific topic.

We invite you to be a part of these conversations. Kicking off the series, we asked: What makes local government your employer of choice? And in May, our theme is Engaging Workforce, encouraging supervisors to sit down and have a conversation with a supervisee about what motivates them, their career aspirations, and current role. Join the conversation and on twitter @transformgov #workforcewednesday.


About the Local Government Research Collaborative

In early 2013, 21 local governments and three universities joined together with the Alliance for Innovation, the International City/County Management Association, and the Center for Urban Innovation at Arizona State University to establish the Local Government Research Collaborative (LGRC).  The LGRC is developing and funding an actionable research agenda that addresses significant issues confronting local governments.  It provides the critical “link” between academic researchers and local governments and allows managers direct input on the identification of emerging and leading practices that will have the most impact on the profession.

For more information contact Toni Shope, Strategic Initiatives Director, [email protected] or (704) 453-7080.


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