Upon entering the workforce during the Great Recession of 2008, many millennials took whatever employment was available and are still job-hopping to catch up on their careers. Now in 2020, as Generation Z begins graduating college, they face similar prospects in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic that abruptly halted a booming economy.
Welcome to adulthood, Gen Z.
In their favor, Gen Z is the most educated and tech-savvy generation of Americans thus far, according to the Pew Research Center. Like their Millennial elders, they are also passionate about community service and environmental stewardship, making them ideal candidates for public sector employment.
Attracting Young Workers
The public sector is touted as having a competitive benefits package, typically including a Cadillac-quality health insurance plan, robust retirement program and extensive paid time off. To stay competitive, local governments may need to reprioritize. The 2019 workforce survey by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence (SLGE) overwhelmingly identified flexible work (49 percent) and health insurance (33 percent) as the most important benefits for attracting and retaining the next generation of public sector workers.
Flexibility is paramount in 2020 and beyond due to the impact of COVID-19 on the workplace.
Decatur City Manager Andrea Arnold admits that some essential tasks cannot be completed at home, such as trash collection and public safety calls. However, the city has worked hard to accommodate workers who can complete their jobs remotely or on an alternative schedule. The Decatur City Commission adopted a pandemic leave policy on March 16, 2020, to reassure employees that their jobs and families were protected. “No employee should have to choose between their job and their child’s education,” Arnold said. “Family first” policies have increased over the past decade, and that trend is likely to continue following the Families First Coronavirus Response Act of 2020. These priority shifts may be leading to greater retention of young workers. For the first time in Deloitte’s annual Global Millennial Survey, the majority of respondents in 2020 said they would like to stay with their current employers for at least five years. Previously, most surveyed millennials said they planned to leave within two years.
“Job loyalty rises as businesses address employee needs, from diversity and inclusion to sustainability and reskilling,” according to Deloitte’s report.
Recruiting Career Employees
Instituting benefits to attract young workers helps set a strong foundation for the future. Next, human resources departments must modernize recruitment strategies and marketing materials for Gen Z.
“The broad-based nature of local government work should be celebrated and shared. It’s important to remind recent graduates that no matter their degree, there’s a fit for them in local government,” said Kirsten Wyatt, co-founder and executive director of Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL).
ELGL, GMA and the University of Georgia collaborated on an event in November 2019 in Athens designed to introduce students to the wide variety of jobs in local government.
“By sharing those exciting stories, allowing students to meet with dynamic Georgia local government leaders and talking about what it’s really like to work in service of a city or county, we are trying to reshape and reframe what a career in local government really looks like,” Wyatt said.
The city of Valdosta is using social media and video to showcase career opportunities for young workers. In March of 2019, the city launched the “Next-Gen Valdosta” video series featuring city employees in their 20s and 30s. The series spread organically on social media to reach young job seekers on a regional level. A partnership with the Valdosta-Lowndes County Development Authority has expanded the series to include young employees in industries throughout the county. “In the past two years, we have seen a noticeable increase in the number of young employees in their 20s and 30s joining the city of Valdosta team,” said Ashlyn
Johnson, Valdosta’s public information officer. “I believe that we have caught the attention of the younger workforce—they are more aware of the opportunities at the city of Valdosta.”
In addition to attracting young workers, projects like the “Next-Gen Valdosta” video series are morale boosters that help retain employees.
“Speaking from experience, as I am part of the millennial generation, I believe our employees feel like they are part of something bigger than themselves,” Johnson said. “Millennial/Gen Z employees are just beginning their careers and are eager to learn more, to be as proficient and as well-rounded as possible. Our city leadership is investing in the future of these employees by allowing them opportunities to learn, train and grow.”
Preparing Future Leaders
The city of Decatur empowered its employees to create a program for professional development and promotional opportunities within the city. The E5 Academy fosters leadership development, connectivity between departments and management levels, and commitment to the organizational vision. Over the past four years, the program has worked: The average tenure of a city of Decatur employee is 10 years.
“I think it keeps people engaged,” Arnold said. “If they are here, and they have opportunities for professional development and growth—and they know that they are part of something bigger than themselves, bigger than just the divisions or departments they are working in—that’s motivating. That’s going to drive them to get up and come to work every day.”
Entry-level work is often more mundane than motivational. When assigning tasks to young staff members, Wyatt encourages city leaders to recall their early years of service.
“The goal is to ensure that in the process of completing important and sometimes dreary work, that you don’t accidentally burn the staff person out and make them think that old stereotypes of local governments being slow, inefficient and boring are true,” Wyatt said. “Be who you needed when you were younger and balance the day-to-day with some projects that provide meaning and value to the organization.”
This article appears in the September/October edition of Georgia’s Cities Magazine.