Most companies that say, “We are only as good as our people,” walk the talk. They flock to college career fairs and use recruiters and headhunters to get top senior-level talent. Tech companies like Facebook are even known to make “acq-hires,” where they buy companies primarily to get people talent (not customers or revenue).
For the last 50 years, government recruited talent based on a simple premise — “good benefits and stability.” Government has never been the best paid industry, but it’s known for good pensions and career stability with little threat for job outsourcing.
In 2011, however, this premise is no longer true. State and local governments are undergoing significant layoffs and furloughs. Faced with unmet pension obligations, governments are starting to take a run at shrinking those pension benefits. Recently my fiancée, a Florida state government employee, essentially got a 3 percent pay cut because she was forced to contribute an additional 3 percent to get the same amount of retirement benefits.
So where does this leave you — the senior government manager trying to recruit talent? All is not lost; there are still many ways to bring great talent into state and local government. You’ll just have to use something different than the traditional “good benefits and stability” pitch.
Here are four suggestions:
1. Leverage high-profile fellowship programs. Code for America is a yearlong program focused on bringing great technology talent to work on city issues. In its inaugural year, it worked with four cities and provided 20 researchers, coders and planners who left jobs at places like Google to work on these programs. Why? Because the fellowship is well structured, has great mentors like Tim O’Reilly, and is prestigious and focused. Then there’s City Hall Fellows, which is run by Bethany Henderson. It has a broader focus than just technology and empowers the next generation of leaders for America’s cities. Cities like New Orleans and New York City also have their own fellowship programs.
2. Reach out. Government agencies must do more than post job openings on their websites — they need to engage where the talent resides. Want a new webmaster? Post on local tech community Listservs, promote at tech meetups and ask current employees for recommendations.
3. Call to service. You may not have money, but you have a great mission — helping serve the city and its citizens. Rather than making the job just about technical duties, make it about the mission. The role of IT manager for the police department isn’t just about knowing Microsoft Project or being a good project manager. It’s also about ensuring the streets are safer and a better place for your kids. Highlight the opportunity for doing good in job opening and promotional materials.
4. Don’t forget your current team. Often there’s a disproportionate amount of time focused on recruitment instead of retention. It’s essential to engage and energize your current team. A great way to keep talent is to offer rotations that give people new opportunities and to provide great mentorship and training programs.
Over the next decade, there will be a continual push for local governments to do more with less in conjunction with financial pressures to cut pensions and benefits. The only way for government to succeed is to attract and retain great talent. Let’s make sure we spend time implementing these ideas to make that happen.