New York State Officials: Agencies Must Adapt to Millennial Work Force

Millennial desires will challenge traditional government work rules.

by / September 26, 2008

Image: Web 2.0, such as Second Life depicted here, will affect tomorrow's IT workforce

New York state officials said Wednesday that government employment rules must adapt to the needs of a new generation of workers, but they acknowledged that making some of those changes won't be easy.

New York Civil Service Commissioner Nancy Groenwegen said working conditions at state agencies are fundamentally different from trendy firms like Google, where instant messages outnumber phone calls, work hours are flexible and employees choose between PCs and Macs.

"We are very different on so many dimensions," said Groenwegen, speaking at an executive leadership event at Government Technology's GTC East in Albany, N.Y., Sept. 24. The event focused on attracting young workers -- particularly those in their 20s -- to government employment.

These young workers, known as Millennials, want flexible hours and cutting-edge technology from their employers. Meeting some of those desires can be challenging for highly structured state agencies. Groenwegen said 80 percent of the state work force is hired through competitive civil-service exams, which complicate and lengthen the hiring process. In addition, workers have little say in the type of desktop technology they use, and popular applications like instant messaging can clash with Freedom of Information Act requirements. Still, with a third of the state work force poised to retire in 10 years, state agencies must react, according to Groenwegen.

Some changes already are under way. The Civil Service Commission created new recruiting tools and is working with universities to direct more graduates toward government employment, she said. The commission also is surveying agency managers on appropriate methods for implementing remote work. And agencies are modifying rules to allow greater use of social networking tools by state employees.

David Gardam, CIO for the New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, said agencies must find ways to let young workers use Web 2.0 applications. "Technology isn't a novelty for these workers; it's a basic," he said. "We need to adopt these technologies or our younger workers will use them around us."

In some ways, Millennials are tailor-made for government employment," said Neil Howe, an author and authority on generations in America. Workers in their 20s tend to value teamwork and civic responsibility, Howe said. They're also more comfortable with large institutions than preceding generations of workers.
But in order to recruit these workers successfully, agencies must recognize the qualities that make them different from their predecessors.

Sheltered and praised by their parents, Millennials have developed a keen sense of self-worth, according to Howe. "They consider themselves special," he said. "Employers can leverage that self-esteem by saying they expect special things from them." On the other hand, Millennials won't spend years in low-responsibility "entry level" positions if they have other options. Nor are they likely to respond well to rigid and impersonal civil service hiring systems.

Agencies also can expect Millennials' parents to be involved in their children's' work lives. Howe said 30 percent of parents submitted resum├ęs for their children last year, and some even attended job interviews. Some employers have responded by developing information packets and Web sites for parents, as well as inviting parents for office visits.

Finally, Millennials will want structure and shelter from employers. These workers will value feedback and regular performance reviews, Howe said. They also may want health-care counseling, investment advice and similar services.