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5 Ways Government Can Become the Employer of Choice for Today’s Workforce


With nearly two job openings for every person, both private- and public-sector organizations are facing stiff competition for talent.

With nearly two job openings for every person, both private- and public-sector organizations are facing stiff competition for talent.

While private-sector employers have powerful levers they can pull to get the best employees — namely, offering higher compensation — government agencies must contend with several barriers that affect how they recruit and retain workers. A lengthy hiring process, salary constraints, outdated job descriptions, labor policies and challenges around branding all impact agencies’ ability to effectively compete.

Public-sector leaders are confronting these issues at a time when they need skilled IT talent to drive cloud adoption, expand digital services and advance equity initiatives. Even so, state and local agencies now have a prime opportunity to recast themselves as the employer of choice for job candidates who want to grow their skills while engaging in mission-driven work.

Here are five ways agencies can better appeal to job candidates, effectively showcase the unique value the public sector offers and become the employer of choice for today’s workforce.


One-third of workers in state and local agencies are actively looking for new jobs, according to a recent survey conducted by KPMG, a leading professional services firm that works with state and local governments. Chris Shuster, managing director of the KPMG human capital advisory practice, says many factors may account for this. One is that employees want greater flexibility.

Though it should go without saying at this point, agencies must embrace remote and hybrid work. Where possible, they also need to offer employees various kinds of flexibility — not just in terms of where they work, but also when. For example, some IT roles may not need to operate on the traditional 9-to-5 schedule. Instead, an employee could work an 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. schedule or another shift of their choice.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, which manages nearly 600 miles of railway with 70 full-time employees and 40 contractors, has embraced flexibility. Robert Taylor, the commission’s chief technology officer (CTO), says his organization primarily uses the office for team-building activities, important meetings and other activities where face-to-face collaboration is necessary.

“We never got more work done than we did in 2020. It was the best year and the best capital program ever [for us] — nothing suffered. So, my struggle is how do I send people back to the office two days a week? People have earned flexibility. We tell people to go into the office when they need to go in,” Taylor says.


Government IT employment postings can be out of step with more modern job titles, descriptions and even degree requirements.

A title like “programmer analyst three” or “computer technician” doesn’t accurately reflect the range of activities an employee would participate in or even the innovative projects they may have an opportunity to work on. While agencies may have limited ability to adjust salary ranges or match private-sector pay, modernizing job descriptions is one small but impactful change they can make, Taylor says.

“We found that a lot of our candidates didn't want to be a ‘programmer analyst three’ anymore. They wanted their job title to be something related to what they would see in the private sector, like cloud engineer,” Taylor says. “Just a simple creative thing like changing the job title made a huge impact.”


As agencies build their workforce for the future, they also need to cast their nets far and wide to recruit the best talent. This is crucial considering many state and local governments serve diverse populations. Hiring and retaining staff with different perspectives and lived experiences could help agencies deliver more equitable services while also better representing the perspectives and experiences of the communities they serve.

Shuster says the public is now more concerned about racial and social justice and environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. Public- and private-sector organizations alike need to move beyond traditional check-the-box diversity strategies and truly integrate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into their operations and how they serve their communities.

“Over the last two and a half to three years as a nation, we’ve had a different discourse going on around diversity, equity, inclusion and race, and how that shows up in lots of spheres,” he says. “It is a very present conversation — and it should be. How is that impacting us in the workplace? How are we responding to that in the workplace, and really answering the questions that our employees, partners, stakeholders in the community, and the citizens we serve have? They are yearning to hear where we land on that as organizations and what changes we will make.”

Shuster adds state and local governments that are leading in this area focus on cultivating a transparent culture, where they openly and regularly communicate about their DEI efforts, use metrics to track their progress and continuously share this data with key stakeholders and the public to hold themselves accountable.

“Just that level of openness and communication and intentionality can really make a difference in people's lives and move the needle in terms of this employer-of-choice discussion,” Shuster says.


DEI also plays into a larger discussion about how an organization defines its values and culture.

Taylor says when his organization updated its strategic plan a few years ago, it focused on talking to every employee about the values that resonated with them. That exercise led the commission to identify five key values that would guide the organization:

  • Safety always (a focus on keeping both employees and motorists safe) 
  • Put the customer first 
  • Communicate openly 
  • Prioritize teamwork, both within and across departmental boundaries 
  • Responsibility (do the right thing from a diversity, sustainability and integrity standpoint) 

These values shape the work the commission does every day. Taylor says it’s his agency’s “secret sauce” when it comes to recruitment.


Lastly, Taylor and Shuster both say state and local governments must be better at branding and sharing government’s unique value proposition.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission is already using this playbook. The organization brands itself as an innovative technology company — not a transportation agency.

“A little bit of our branding is selling candidates — we're working on connected automated vehicles; we're working on artificial intelligence; we're doing predictive analytics. We’re doing some cool things. We’re really selling them on what we call ‘Reimagining the Turnpike,'” Taylor says.

Agencies should rebrand themselves as an employer that offers innovative, transformative work that changes lives. Aside from branding, agencies can also highlight the public sector’s unique advantages in terms of stability, retirement security and total compensation.


For state and local governments to advance their transformation, they need skilled talent. However, recruiting and retaining workers in the current job market will require these organizations to be more creative and adaptive.

Whether it’s revamping job descriptions, increasing their focus on DEI, improving the employee experience or building better branding, state and local agencies can fine-tune their talent strategy in several ways to build their workforce for the future. By doing so, they can meaningfully change their organizations for the better and transform how they serve the public.

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