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Podcast: The Public Sector Pivot with Kaitlyn Rentala

Posted on July 6, 2021


Kaitlyn Rentala - GovLove 2

KR

Kaitlyn Rentala
Author & Student
University of Pennsylvania
LinkedIn | Twitter


A renaissance in public service. Kaitlyn Rentala, an author and student at the University of Pennsylvania, joined the podcast to talk about her new book, The Public Sector Pivot: How Gen Z Will Lead a Renaissance in Public Service. She shared strategies for how government agencies can better attract people to public service. Kaitlyn also discussed how government can market its strengths compared to the private sector  and what government can do to retain workers once hired.

Host: Kirsten Wyatt

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Episode Transcript

Message  00:00

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Kirsten Wyatt  00:39

Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is gov love, a podcast about local government. gov love is produced by ElGL, the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, we engage the brightest minds and local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt, the ELGL co founder and executive director, and today I’m joined by Kaitlyn Rentala, the author of “The Public Sector Pivot: how Gen Z will lead a renaissance in public service.” Kaitlyn, welcome to Gov Love.

Kaitlyn Rentala  01:05

 Thanks for having me.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:07

 Today we’re talking about Kaitlyn’s book, what inspired her to write it and her main findings. And you can find the book in paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Head over to the show notes for a link directly to the book, so you can purchase a copy as well. But first, let’s get started with a lightning round. So what is your most controversial non political opinion?

Kaitlyn Rentala  01:29

I use this a lot as my common hot take, but I think Cheeto puffs are better than Cheetos.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:34

Wow, that that’s bold. That’s really bold

Kaitlyn Rentala  01:38

I know. I know.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:39

I mean, do they seem healthier? Because they’re less dense? Maybe?

Kaitlyn Rentala  01:41

I just think they’re easier to like continuously eat you know, I could I could finish a whole bag and that’s pretty embarrassing to admit to the wide audience but uh, yeah, they’re addicting.

Kirsten Wyatt  01:53

Well, if you could only eat one thing for lunch for the rest of this year, what would you choose?

Kaitlyn Rentala  01:58

Chipotle? I’m a big Chipotle Stan. I guess I sound very Gen Z right now, you know, talking about Cheeto puffs, and Chipotle, but it’s the honest truth. I’m a huge, huge fan of Chipotle.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:08

What’s your go to order?

Kaitlyn Rentala  02:10

Chicken burrito bowl. Although I’ve recently been getting tortilla on the side, because their tortillas just are beyond anything else that I’ve had.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:21

Alright, and what is your hometown famous for?

Kaitlyn Rentala  02:24

So I’m from Rye, New York. I’m there right now. It’s a super old town. It’s been around since the 1600s. George Washington one stayed at what we call the square house, which is like the local museum in Rye now. And that’s our claim to fame. I guess is, you know, he stopped by the Boston post road, which is, you know, runs right through the main drag of town. Yeah.

Kirsten Wyatt  02:49

That’s great. All right. And then lastly, who is a famous person that you’d be completely gobsmacked to meet in real life?

Kaitlyn Rentala  02:56

Now, I’m gonna sound like a huge political nerd person. But Aaron Sorkin like the West Wing is my favorite TV show in the world. The Newsroom was also a close second, I would probably be crying if I met him in person. That’s the life goal one day.

Kirsten Wyatt  03:12

A couple of us came up with this question, because we were talking about how when we’ve seen famous people, we’d like uncontrollably like screamed or like, yeah, and exactly. Your reaction is like exactly what i would i could picture when you meet somebody that you really admire?

Kaitlyn Rentala  03:29

Yeah. know for sure. He grew up in the town right over. But you know, I haven’t seen him walking around or anything. One day, maybe someday, someday. Yes.

Kirsten Wyatt  03:38

So let’s get started. would love for you to tell our listeners about your career and life path to date?

Kaitlyn Rentala  03:45

Yeah, so it’s still early stage. I’ll caveat that, you know, I’m 21. I just finished my junior year at Penn. But in terms of my intern experiences, and, you know, there’s different things that I’ve been involved with the last three or four years, it’s been pretty different, pretty varied. I’ve worked at a healthcare company right after my freshman year, I worked at a foreign policy, think tank, a trade policy firm, both in DC. I’ve worked in tech policy. And now I’m working at a consulting firm focusing on joint ventures internationally. So you know, I’ve done a lot of really disparate things. But I think that diversity has added so much to my own perspective in terms of figuring out what I want to do in my life, figuring out what my career wants to know what I want my career to be. You know, I’ve been really lucky to have amazing co workers and mentors throughout all these internship experiences. And so, I think because of that, and because I’ve been surrounded by so many amazing people. You know, I have high expectations for my career. I feel like I want my eventual career to be something that is genuinely super exciting and super fulfilling, which obviously, I think public service and public sector work really speaks to that.

Kirsten Wyatt  05:01

I’ll start with the blurb for your book kind of that hook, you know, that describes what it’s about, for our listeners. And so you write:  “the future of the US is in jeopardy. And it’s not just because of partisanship, in the end hope for the future always lies in the next generation. And yet the government is ignoring this crop of energetic purpose driven workers.” That’s a tremendously powerful statement. And so I’d love to get started by learning more about why you wanted to write this book and how it came to be.

Kaitlyn Rentala  05:30

Yeah, so I’ve always been interested in politics, not even the political aspect of it, but more so the service aspect of it, and really, you know, diving deep and being able to solve issues on a really grand scale in a way that really impacts people. You know, I think going back to high school, I think, you know, AP government and AP world history, like all these different amazing classes, and amazing teachers really opened my eyes to the policy world, and, you know, the impact that I could potentially have in the future. But I came from a very business focused family, you know, my parents are both in business. And, you know, I come from an immigrant family as well, and it’s public service wasn’t something that anyone had ever considered, you know, most my family’s in health care or finance, or pharma. And so, you know, these are industries that are set pathways for immigrants, typically, you know, the, that they’re kind of set routes, but public service just never really crossed anyone’s mind. So I had very little exposure. And I think I also had a lot of these like stereotypes about the public sector in my head, because, you know, people will say that, oh, you know, government’s intransigent, or it’s, you know, bureaucratic and not very efficient. But I was like, Is that really true? I don’t know, I haven’t had that much exposure to it. So my spring semester, my sophomore year, the spring of 2020, I went did a program through Penn called Penn, Washington, where you spend your semester in DC with 17 of, you know, another of other policy, politically minded peers, you spend a semester in DC, interning and taking classes full time. And I met the most amazing public servants, you know, my co workers, at think tanks, my guest speakers from our classes, so many amazing people that genuinely loved working in government and really felt like they were making a difference. And I was completely taken aback by that, you know, the unreserved passion for it. I think that’s what I was missing. I think that’s what a lot of people that I realized a lot of people didn’t have that exposure to people who are genuinely passionate, about what they do in government, um, and then, you know, of course, the pandemic hit in March, and that completely blew up everyone’s life. But, you know, I went back from DC back to my home and Rye New York, and I left the service minded energetic experience, and I, you know, was thrust back home in this really quiet and really, you know, scary time where no one really knew what’s going to happen to the world, everything shut down. I kind of realized at that moment, that service is so important. It’s not even. It’s not some like grandiose ideal, so much as it’s about the day to day and helping people right then and there. And I think public service and getting people to be in government took on a whole new urgency for me. So I wanted to figure out why there weren’t that many young people in it, because my friends are very, very service minded. And my peers are very service minded to they’re incredibly passionate about it. But I saw almost no one going into government after graduation. So I kind of wanted to figure out why that was, I assumed, you know, I, my hypothesis was that people had a desire, you know, young people have the desire to make a difference to be of service to their communities, or the country. But the pathways just aren’t there. And so I kind of set out to explore that about a year and a half ago now, which is crazy.

Kirsten Wyatt  09:00

The book is fascinating, because you weave together some case studies and some experiences of people that you met and interviewed, but then also some really good statistics that I think, you know, definitely kind of made me sit up and take notice. And so you know, a couple here that that all that I’ll share, you write: “the public sector is highly appealing to Gen Z. In fact, it may be more appealing than to any other generation in history, a staggering 72% of Gen Z ers say it’s important that they have a positive impact in the world.” And then you also share this stat that says that 24.9% of college students rank government as one of their top three target industries. But then, you know, you go on to explain that that pipeline to government isn’t there. So talk to us more about, you know, harnessing this desire to do good in the world to work in service, and where government is falling short to attract that talent.

Kaitlyn Rentala  09:53

Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot to say there. You know, I am one Going back to your first statistic about 72% of Gen Z-ers, want to have a positive impact in the world? You know, I see that in my day to day, it’s not just a statistic, I see that in my peers and my friends, people are genuinely extremely passionate about it. And I think they have a belief that government can be a part of that change, I think they have that belief more so than perhaps generations in the past. And I think that’s something that, you know, we should capitalize on or we should take as an opportunity to increase public service participation among the next generation. And then, in terms of, you know, the next stat, you quoted, the almost 25% of college students ranked government as one of their top three target industries. I was pretty shocked to see that, you know, that’s that’s a really significant statistic. But I wasn’t actually that shocked. You know, the follow up to that is that only 2% actually go into government post graduation. And I think that was a real turning point in my thinking. Because I think a lot of people when they think about this issue of how to get more young people to public service, they think about inspiring young people to get in, right, they think about how do we showcase to them that it’s a worthy career? My whole thing is that I think the inspiration is there, at least for a good amount of my generation or a good amount of young people. It’s really not the desire, it’s the implementation aspect, right, like building out that pipeline specifically. You know, there are so many specific things that we can do. I mean, I, my ultimate thing, it comes back down to making targeted connections with communities, right. So if you’re going to a college campus, as a federal recruiter, or as a state, or local government recruiter, don’t just go to the career fair, right? Maybe target, talk to some professors who work in political science, or IR, or whatever field, you know, you’re focused on. Or maybe looking at the Centers, you know, if there’s like international relations center, or there’s a democracy study of democracy center, those tend to be a better way to attract people, because you’re going through a more narrowed, more targeted pathway, rather than just going broad and staying there. You know, I think that, that alone, just having a really targeted approach to government, recruiting would had such a monumental impact on the pipeline, and improving the numbers of young people going into government.

Kirsten Wyatt  12:26

As I read your book, I kept jotting notes down into our ELGL staff, Slack channel. And I think that, I think that our staff is going to kill me because I literally was pulling from your book, ways that we can improve the work that we’re doing on college campuses, to share information about local government careers, and it really comes down to that action piece, you know, and, and we’re so flawed in how government recruits, especially when we compare that to private industry, and, you know, you you very succinctly share that there is a pipeline to the private sector, but not the public sector. And they’re snatching up talent before, you know, government can even, like post a job on their website. So talk to us about those flaws in the government recruiting system and some of the the fixes that you recommend.

Kaitlyn Rentala  13:16

Yeah, I mean, I want to caveat, I’m just saying, I have deep deep respect for all government recruiters and the work because everyone I’ve talked to has been extremely competent and incredibly passionate, it’s just the system itself is just, you know, not functioning in the way that it could, you know, there’s so much room for growth. So I think that’s how we should look at it. But I think, you know, such a fundamental thing for me, that would generally change my own personal life is just moving government recruiting up from the spring to the fall. So private sectors, oftentimes recruit very early into the fall, you know, consulting, investment banking, tech firms, they recruit, August, September, October, November, of, you know, a school year. And so, you know, if you’re interested in private sector and public sector, which, you know, a ton of people are, it’s hard to wait five months to see if you can potentially get a job in the public sector, when these private sector opportunities are just right there, in terms of, you know, getting a job in September and having a great senior year of college, you know, with all that stress off your back, versus, you know, waiting until March or April or even may to like, find out if you can even get a government job. So, you know, I know there’s so many different factors that go into that in terms of like, government, knowing what positions will be open and needing to fill it immediately. Of course, there’s always going to be issues with that system. But fundamentally, I do think if we can move, at least positions that focus on young people and that, you know, can be filled earlier on into the year I think moving that recruitment cycle from the spring to the Fall is so so critically important.

Kirsten Wyatt  15:04

The other thing that jumped out at me was how how badly government markets their jobs, you know, I think about job titles, and, you know, it’s hard, it’s sometimes it’s hard to understand what the job does, because it’s been given some, you know, very generic title, even though it might have, you know, it might be doing a ton of work in, you know, the innovation or digital government space, but it’s been labeled as, you know, some type of, you know, analyst or some type of coordinator. And it’s, I think it’s tough when you put that job up against, you know, a private sector that maybe has like a cooler title.

Kaitlyn Rentala  15:38

Yeah, I totally agree with that. I think the keywords aspect is so important. And, you know, private sector recruiters do like, hundreds of $1,000, as a research, I’m sure, or, you know, something really significant to make sure that their titles and their branding really matches, it’s cohesive, but also appealing to young people. And I think that’s a fix that government can make, and I think that will have a huge impact on their, you know, numbers of young people going into government,

Kirsten Wyatt  16:05

you also brought up a great point about career services on college campuses, and how often they can be, they can form really strong relationships with private sector, and government is missing out on that ability to form those connections, and then kind of get that kind of that inner look, or that, you know, sneak peek at the on the most talented students and, you know, that also kind of gets back to that concept of building authentic relationships and, you know, figuring out, you know, how you go to where the talent is, so any tips or advice for governments that want to strengthen their relationship, you know, with Career Services, or with some of those on campus resources?

Kaitlyn Rentala  16:45

Yeah, I would say career service s important, definitely to build that relationship. I think it’s about continued contact with Career Service, you know, over the years, over time, having presence, demonstrating that young people, you know, your students want to go work for their agency. So putting in that effort and showcasing that, but I wouldn’t also just limit yourself to career services to I think, a lot of agencies or, you know, at all levels of government do limit themselves to like, perhaps the bare minimum of, you know, the entry points into a college campus. And I think, you know, getting a little more creative with it is certainly possible, you know, partnering with clubs, you know student run organizations on campus, non nonpartisan ones, you know, if you’re a civil servant organization like this, there are definitely tons of those partnering with research centers. on campus, you know, there’s so many different ways to go about it. It is about all about making those individual relationships with key people that have a lot of influence on campus, you know, I can certainly think of a good amount of professors and administrators on Penn’s campus that have a great influence on how I think about my career and thinking about which opportunities may be exciting post graduation. And I think it’s all about tapping into that tapping into that network of really high impact high influenced people.

Kirsten Wyatt  18:09

You write about Tunisha’s story about stumbling into working for government. And this is, it’s so common, and something that we hear all the time, we even created a meme that we use of a guy like falling into a local government career. And you write for the public sector can’t afford to only attract talent, by pure happenstance for every individual that stumbles into public service. There are 10 more that could have succeeded, but didn’t know public service was even an option. Attracting diverse talent shouldn’t be a matter of chance. And this is so important, because there’s an element of privilege there, too, if you’re lucky enough to stumble into a career, how do we break this this apathy? How do we break out of this? The cycle of, of not promoting ourselves well enough, especially to talented people?

Kaitlyn Rentala  18:57

Yeah, I mean, short, a little more context for people on Tunisha’s background, and she’s, you know, absolutely incredible. She grew up, you know, low income, first generation in Southern California, you know, went to Cal State, you know, went to university in California really struggled in university because she didn’t have the network, the support system had to work, you know, three jobs sometimes to sustain, you know, her education. And then eventually, you know, she married her husband, who was in the military, and they were in London. And Tunisha was like, wow, there’s so many civilians working on this military base, and I don’t, and she was like, it never even crossed my mind that you could be, you know, a civilian working for the government. You know, it was just that she had absolutely no exposure to that at all the idea that you’re a public servant. So you know, she went to DC and she likes and happens and you know, there’s amazing roles and diversity and inclusion and So many different agencies and she was, you know, eventually, like the head of the head of, you know, diversity initiatives, essentially at the office of Commerce, the Civil Rights Office in the Department of Commerce, which is just incredible. And she’s really, really an incredible person who’s really done so much within the public sector, and actually just left the public sector to work as the head of DNI initiatives at Motorola. So she’s had an amazing, amazing career. But so in turn back to your question about how government can break this apathy, and you know, really focus on recruiting diverse talent, one again, it comes back to direct outreach, you know, reaching out to, you know, historically Hispanic institutions HBCUs, it’s really critical to have government employees of diverse backgrounds, you know, come and talk to, you know, minorities, or people who are underrepresented, upper underrepresented on college campuses. You know, I think that really makes a huge difference when you can see someone that looks like you that has the same background, and be like, Oh, well, so they actually did this, you know, they are in this career, I think that makes a huge, huge difference. And that makes a huge impact. And I would also say that, you know, there’s going to have to be some sort of cultural shift within the public sector, I think the public sector has a really strong focus on meritocracy, which is great. But I think there needs to be a shift and understanding that diversity is really a part of that meritocratic process. And just as important, you know, diversity of ethnicity, gender, age, so many different aspects. It’s just as important, I think, private sector, because the private sector has more flexibility in that, you know, they’re not dictated by laws, and, you know, regulations in the same way that government is. So the private sector is, you know, for all its faults, has definitely made some strides and improvements in the area, I think government can do so as well, within obviously, the net natural constraints of what the public sector is, you know, I think we have to remember that government is a different beast for the private sector, and rightly so. So, you know, there’s always ways to improve within the own within, you know, government’s own context.

Kirsten Wyatt  22:20

So let’s talk about money. Let’s talk about pay, share with us some of the findings from your book, and then what government could potentially do to compete with private sector, especially when we’re looking at, you know, tech, you know, looking at Tech, looking at banking consulting, where, you know, those starting salaries, you know, are like mid career salaries in government. So, talk to us about the money side of things.

Kaitlyn Rentala  22:45

Yeah, the money side of things, that was a hard thing to tackle in a book, because I think that’s the conception, that’s the first conception people have right, then you’re just not gonna get paid as much or as much as you would in the private sector. And, you know, I will definitely be the first one to admit like, that is probably true in some aspects. You know, I think it also depends, something that was really shocking to me that it didn’t realize was that if you have, up until an undergraduate level of education, compared comparing the government to the private sector, you actually get paid more in government rather than the private sector. And that’s huge. I think the one caveat difference, or that, that people have noted is that if you have like a professional degree, like MBA or JD or a PhD, you will likely probably get paid higher in the private sector, and then government. You know, of course, it all depends on which industry, you’re on which sector, and there’s so many different factors to consider. But that is generally, you know, the data on that. But I also think people are realizing more and more these days, that there are more things in terms of money, you know, in terms of a fulfilling career, it really isn’t just so much about the money anymore. I mean, one thing, that government has a huge advantage, you know, compared to the private sector is work life balance. You know, they’re really modeling what a work life balance life could be, you know, my friends right now that are working in investment banking and consulting, are making significant significant amounts of money for sure, especially for someone that’s, you know, 21 years old, but they’re not getting paid, you know, an extreme amount compared to the hours they’re working, because it’s just, you know, a crazy, crazy amount. So, I think you always have to consider different aspects like that, you know, another aspect is that the benefits in government are much better than in the private sector, historically known and when you’re general, generalizing for, you know, all different factors. And so there are other things you know, ultimately I think it comes down to a culture shift of people are going to value different things. You know, I don’t think Money has to be the biggest value in your career. I certainly think that it depends on where you are in government. But a career in government, especially, you know, if you work hard and can rise and ranks can provide you, you know, a pretty, pretty good life. But again, it all depends on your own values and personal beliefs. But I don’t think it’s as crazy of an issue as I think people make it out to be.

Kirsten Wyatt  25:27

Do you think that that conversation about benefits about retirement, is that attractive to Gen Z? Or is that too far, you know, on the horizon, that that’s not a compelling argument to make when you’re trying to, you know, maybe convince someone to choose government over private sector?

Kaitlyn Rentala  25:44

I think Gen Z cares about that quite a bit, you know, and I’m just speaking for me, and sure, I’ve done a good amount of like research, I certainly don’t want to generalize for an entire generation, right, I guess. I’ve titled it like that in the book, but I really tried to nuance it a bit. But I do think people do genuinely care. I think, you know, I think a lot of my generation, we saw our parents go through, like the 2008 financial crisis go through a lot of these ups and downs economically. And I think the stability of government and the stability of benefits. And then, you know, considering all the healthcare debates for the past 10 years, it’s been a huge part of our lives and our upbringing, you know, it’s been a huge part of how we think and formulate about the world. So I naturally do think that benefits is a very significant part in terms of thinking about, you know, the quality of a job. Now, of course, in terms of like, you know, our early early careers, it’s hard to, you know, imagine that because retirement is so far off when you’re 22. But I think it is a room that I think it is a benefit that, you know, government recruiters can highlight. And I think that Gen Z does care about it.

Kirsten Wyatt  27:01

I know a lot of local governments put together total compensation packages where they are showing the value of, you know, the health, health, health care insurance, and then also, you know, dental and then right, you know, the benefit of the employer match on your retirement account. And, and I’ve often wondered that was that, like speaking the right language? Or if it’s too, if it’s too, I guess, nuanced, I guess, or too far in the future for, for younger people to think about?

Kaitlyn Rentala  27:32

Yeah, I think, I think it’s a, I think it is probably less important for Gen Z compared to someone who’s maybe in their 40s. Right. But I would say that it is still a good factor and a big plus in the government column. I would say, though, in terms of like, just the things that I look for, I would look for learning opportunities, and like a really dynamic learning opportunity above all else. So I think, you know, ultimately, that’s what government should focus on in terms of their marketing and their, you know, marketing of different positions. But once you get that hook, so to speak, I think it’s pretty wise to go into the other benefits as well.

Kirsten Wyatt  28:11

You’ve talked in the book about Gen Z’s desire for constant communication and feedback. How does that align with government HR? And, and sometimes, you know, these antiquated systems have an annual review once a year? And it’s like a very bland form? How do how should government balance kind of that desire for Gen Z to have more of that feedback?

Kaitlyn Rentala  28:34

Yeah, I think it’s an area of improvement, that government, you know, really should focus on. You know, I don’t want to generalize for, again, for the entire levels of government, but I do think that onboarding can’t take weeks on end, and you know, people want to hit the ground running, they want to get their laptops on day one, they want to get their projects going in the first, you know, few days, few weeks, they want a comprehensive orientation program, you know, they really want to feel like they’re part of the community. And so, I think that’s something that has to be again, a cultural shift among government and within government. I think it’s for the better, you know, I think the constant communication and feedback really adds to the quality of work, especially for you know, the younger generation, especially with technology being what it is these days, you know, I think that’s something that can be implemented. But I do recognize that it’s probably one of the bigger challenges in terms of this entire culture shift that needs to happen, but I do think that it does need to happen. You know, I think it’s a the next step, and I think it, you know, has started to happen, I think it’s going to continue to keep going.

Kirsten Wyatt  29:48

And it struck me while I was reading that section that said, you know, if someone’s listening to this, and they’re, they’re thinking, you know, that makes sense. That’s kind of what I’ve observed in my employees. You don’t have to wait for HR to like, operationalize it like you could, you can react to your employees in the way that they want. They want to engage with you. And and you can do that without HR saying, you know, this is how you give constant feedback, you know, and so, you know, hopefully to the book will spur some, some great leaders to kind of think differently about how they’re engaging on that front.

Kaitlyn Rentala  30:20

Yeah, I mean, the great thing about government in terms, you know, and just my opinion about is that I feel like there’s a lot of really key stakeholders who have like, massive influence. So you know, getting a few people to adopt certain practices, or policies, I think, would have like a massive ripple effect and all levels. So, yeah, that’s the goal, hopefully,

Kirsten Wyatt  30:41

I’m gonna read another section that that really resonated with me, you write: “what does Gen Z, ultimately want? Community on a deeper level, what every young person really yearns for in a first job is a sense of community.” And this struck me because, you know, I’ve heard time and time again, about local governments that don’t have, they don’t have an onboarding program, or they don’t have any sort of mentorship or networking opportunity. And, and sometimes that’s why people seek out ELGL, which, you know, makes me happy. But, but let’s talk about building that sense of community into an organization and some of the elements that you think are most important?

Kaitlyn Rentala  31:20

Yeah, I think, I think this is one area that the private sector does really well, especially in a few industries, you know, the ones I’m most familiar with are IB, and tech and consulting. And I see, you know, they have this cohort, style of hiring where you know, every year, you have, like a set amount of young people going into your firm, and that really bonds you, you know, it’s like, you’re deep in the trenches with your peers. And I think that is something that young people really are looking for, especially the young, you know, the earlier parts of their career, you know, in terms of like, mentorship and making, making new friends, I think it’s all about that, especially when you’re in your early mid 20s. So, you know, I mean, I think government can do that as well, I mean, certainly on different scale, and different, you know, different ways of doing that. But I think government can hire and cohorts as well in certain areas, and it always has to be agency and group specific, but I think it can happen, you know, and just making an effort to like, host weekly lunch and learns, you know, have happy hours, book clubs, you know, I’m sure individual agencies and groups already do these things. But it would be great to get it across the board to get agencies or groups to really realize that this is such a big part of retention of young workers. And I think you’re not only going to attract more people who are going to be happier, more fulfilled, and, you know, produce better work. It doesn’t take that much, you know, you’ll have to spend crazy amounts of money. It’s really just about the engagement aspect. And I think it’s the constant learning piece that, for me, anyways, is the most appealing, you know, where can I learn the most? How can I keep growing my own skills and abilities? And does this, you know, job when I’m 20 to 23 years old, does it provide for these formalized and informal learning opportunities? That’s absolutely key.

Kirsten Wyatt  33:10

And I think too, especially in local government, where your job might be in one department, but the trickiest issues, and the most, you know, pressing, pressing needs pressing challenges are cross departmental, you know, there’s not one department that’s going to solve homelessness, there’s not one department that’s going to solve climate change. And so ensuring that you’ve structured positions, so they get to have, they get to break out of those silos and kind of think about those issues that maybe don’t fit into one department. Kind of also jumped out at me as a way to create community because you’re not just sticking someone behind a desk and saying, Do one thing every day for the rest of your life.

Kaitlyn Rentala  33:48

Right. And I think that’s something that people really love, you know, I personally love when things are interdisciplinary when I can connect this industry to this other industry, this subject to another subject, and I think, you know, intellectually, that’s extremely exciting, but also a great way, like you said, to build community. And I think ultimately, that’ll have a better effects on job performance. You know, if you want to solve these issues, like you mentioned, it’s gonna take cross departmental works cross, you know, state federalism type of work. So, uh, yeah, I completely agree.

Kirsten Wyatt  34:21

You also wrote about trust and how important trust is, especially for Gen Z, and, you know, wanting to work in an organization or in a sector that they can trust. Tell us more about that.

Kaitlyn Rentala  34:36

Yeah, I mean, we’ve all seen the last few years of government, you know, it’s not even so much a political issue. I think everyone can recognize that. We’ve seen some really massive institutional shifts. And you have to understand that for Gen Z, it’s coming up, you know, the prime of their development in terms of their intellectual and their, you know, mental and social understanding. where they fit into the world into the country? I mean, I think that’s, that’s really key. It’s really formative, whether we’re talking about, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement, civil rights moves in general. You know, COVID, obviously, it was a huge one. There’s so many different shifts happening in the past few years, I think have really fundamentally shaped Gen Z. It’s hard because, you know, I think Gen Z at this moment is probably pretty cynical and pretty distrustful of a lot of things, I think, just by nature of the world right now. But I don’t think it’s distrust and cynical to the point of despair. I think it’s distrust right now. But complete trust and hope and faith in what government could be. And I think Gen Z genuinely believes that they can change the future and have a huge part in forming it. What I think that needs to be changed fundamentally, in terms of public administration policy, is that there’s a tendency for a lot of people and politicians to demonize civil servants and, you know, complain about bureaucracy, and this rhetoric, alone of all these stereotypes, and you know, public servants, they’re lazy, and they don’t really care about the, you know, the good of the country, I think that’s very, very harmful. And that is what creates this immense distrust in government, you know, it’s really harmful to sow distrust into government, because governments are central to democracy into our functioning as a society. I came out of this year and a half, this, you know, kind of a sucky year and a half, actually incredibly, more optimistic about this country, you know, than depressed about it, because I was talking to so many amazing, incredible public servants. I think if people could actually talk to public servants, in every function of their day to day lives, they would realize that, you know, this massive behemoth of government that we think is so impersonal was actually, you know, staffed by really, really incredible people who genuinely care so much about this country. So, you know, I think we need to build up our institutions and our public servants not tearing tearing them down.

Kirsten Wyatt  37:15

That’s why I think this book is so important to be able to, you know, hopefully, it’s not just government folks reading. But you know, in telling those stories, and reminding people of what an important what important jobs are in government, and, you know, clearly it’s something that that we’re really intent on promoting, and, you know, making local government, you know, fun and cool and interesting. And so, I’m just, I’m so pleased that you wrote this book. And I encourage all of our listeners to get a copy and and read it, because there’s a lot of really great practical advice in there. 

Kaitlyn Rentala  37:49

Thank you. So happy you found that helpful. That’s so nice to hear. 

Kirsten Wyatt  37:52

If you could give our listeners kind of one parting like piece of advice that that if they could go into their organizations, and you know, in the month of July, do something to make their workplace more Gen Z friendly. What advice might you give?

Kaitlyn Rentala  38:10

I would say, one that, regardless of where you are, if you’re in the private sector in the public sector, I think the act of service itself is a day to day thing. I think it’s an you know, something that you can practice every single day, regardless of what what you’re doing, what your career is, I think that’s something we need to build back in this country, a culture of service, you know, volunteering, mentoring, engaging, and I think Gen Z really resonates with that, and hopefully, you know, is trying to do in their daily lives, you know, I’m certainly trying to do it as well, you know, definitely not succeeding all the time. But I think it’s something I’m always cognizant of. And I think that’s something that we to embrace, as, you know, a country as a world as a society. And I think it’s ultimately going to make, you know, the country a better place if we can focus on the, you know, the day to day acts of service as well. So that was that was one that was one piece of advice, I would give everyone for the month of July, just focus on that day to day acts. And I think, you know, it goes hand in hand with getting more Gen Z-ers into, you know, government as well. I think focusing on the day to day is really, really important.

Kirsten Wyatt  39:26

All right, so I have one last question. If you could be the Gov love podcast, DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode?

Kaitlyn Rentala  39:35

Oh, my God, that’d be Oh, that’s a really tough one. Um, I’m a big Bruce Springsteen fan. So I would go with the promised land, or I don’t know. Yeah, that’s probably the one I’d go with. I’m a huge fan of that song. So yeah, that’s that’s also very apt. I feel Yes, for sure. For sure.

Kirsten Wyatt  39:55

Well, thank you so much for coming on and talking with me today and sharing more information with our listeners. about your book. 

Kaitlyn Rentala  40:01

Yeah, Thanks for the invite. This has been amazing. 

Kirsten Wyatt  40:03

Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network, you can reach us at ELGL.org or on Twitter @ELGL50 and @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.


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