At the Los Angeles Digital Government Summit, city police and technology officials discussed the challenge of attracting young staffers to the public sector, and why they may be a good fit.
Focusing on teamwork, emphasizing purpose and utilizing technology were three strategies for recruiting and retaining millennial and Generation Z talent that city and police officials shared with an audience of more than 100 on Aug. 29, the first day of the Los Angeles Digital Government Summit.
The panel discussion, “A Roadmap for Success: Building World Class Teams,” featured two officials from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and Ted Ross, general manager and CIO of Los Angeles.
While obviously linked, the two agencies have historically faced other, differing challenges besides generational concerns.
Ross, one of Government Technology's Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2017, reminded the group that the Great Recession continues to resonate at City Hall, with L.A. employing about 40 percent less IT staff than in 2009.
LAPD Capt. Alan Hamilton, commanding officer for the recruitment and employment division, told the room that stringent LAPD hiring requirements have meant that the department hired just 2.8 percent of every 100 applicants during fiscal 2016-2017 — a number that has risen less than 1 percent during the current fiscal year to 3.7 percent.
Hamilton, who divides responsibility for determining who becomes a police officer with the city’s personnel department, described the department as having been a bit of a “technological desert,” but said it’s modernizing to attract college-level applicants who are also being wooed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“I knew going forward that we would not survive being in this competitive law enforcement recruitment world being at a technological disadvantage. We’re marketing to the millennial and Gen-Z generation to bring them on board. They are a very technologically oriented cohort,” Hamilton said.
The police captain said LAPD was able to capitalize on a grant from Mayor Eric Garcetti’s innovation fund to convene people to discuss the future, and how best to update and upgrade technology.
The department has upped its recruiting efforts to attract a more successful, active and highly educated cohort. And, naturally, LAPD is emphasizing outreach via the Internet and social media.
“Hopefully, the chief is not going to give me a heavy lift for the Olympics 10 years from now,” Hamilton said with a smile before getting serious. “I’ll be retired, but I really want to set up the person who comes after me. You have to leave not only the lights on, but you have to leave your teams ready for whoever comes behind you."
Luann Pannell, the police department’s director of training and education, said it’s important for agencies to do as LAPD tries to do — and remember theirs is a team-based profession that could benefit from training through an event to consider what comes afterward.
“If you are fearful, how creative are you? If you are fearful, how collaborative are you? There are certain emotions that hijack creative thinking every time,” Pannell said, noting that people who aren’t able to work in an inclusive environment may see co-workers as competitors rather than teammates.
“Train in a team, by a team, to be a team,” Pannell said. “We find, particularly with this generation, they want to see — and I think we all want to see — that what we’re doing makes a difference. As we start seeing those relationships and connectedness, we see people really start to invest [themselves]."
Ross pointed out that his department is spread across 18 city divisions and is responsible for everything from a TV station to a 311 call center to police avionics. The recession may have pushed it back to a “keep the lights on” mentality, but the CIO said the city has nonetheless tried to create impactful, wide-ranging technological solutions.
“It’s trying to balance the idea of running legacy but then shifting its modernization. It’s not just about doing cool new mobile apps, it’s about capturing whole segments of the organization,” he said.
Balancing hiring and retirements in a staff of about 450 IT professionals is somewhat mirrored by the responsibilities of city government itself, Ross said, noting that he strives to maintain an employee base of varying ages, expertise, areas of interest and skill levels — as IT handles everything from app building to payroll.
“We can afford to attract people who are willing to be a little more patient. And the good thing is that a lot of younger people believe in purpose, and I think that’s a great alignment with government,” Ross said. “Keeping the lights on is terrible for IT folks especially coders. It’s got to be chatbots, it’s got to be machine learning, it’s got to be data analysis.”