States Face Rising Tide of Retirement

There are changes afoot in public employment, not the least of which is the impending retirement of the Baby Boom generation. This wave of retiring workers stalled out due to the economic downturn, but now it’s coming ashore. And public employers are going to be harder hit than private ones because a much greater share of their workforce is entering the golden years. According to this recent article from Pew’s Stateline:

 older workerThe impending exodus is prompting many human resources departments to dust off “succession plans” for filling positions in a better-educated and lower-paid workforce than the private sector.

And it’s provoking a re-examination of some states’ pay and workforce policies because government must attract the next generation of employees: the millennials.

“Succession planning is the No. 1 issue,” said Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives. “It’s on everyone’s front-burner.”

“One-third of state workers are eligible to retire in the next five years,” Scott added.

Just how many of the 5 million people employed by state governments will leave is impossible to predict. Economic and eligibility factors, such as age and years on the job, vary from state to state. They don’t always have to wait until age 65. Employees in some jobs can retire or take reduced benefits at 50, for instance. Others can leave at 55 or 60 once they have worked enough years.

Nearly half of state workers are between 45 and 64 years old, a Congressional Research Service report pointed out in March. And signs are they’re increasingly ready to hang it up after clinging to their jobs after the recession struck.

But as we’ve written about in the past, and the Pew piece gets into as well, attracting the Millennial generation to careers in public service is no small task. The good news, Pew points out, is that Millennials are better educated than Boomers as a whole and they are interested in stable employment and benefits. The bad news – public sector pay is lower than the private sector.

In a related piece, the Wall Street Journal, published an interesting article recently about how the lack of young federal workers leads to problems like high risk aversion and lack of flexibility in public agencies. The article goes on to discuss new strategies from the Office of Public Management to recruit younger workers:

And absent a youth injection, already risk-shy government agencies may grow even more averse to change, says Richard Boly, a retired director at the State Department.

Government agencies still depend too much on prior experience when judging even entry-level candidates and don’t recruit as nimbly as private-sector concerns, says Mr. Stier, of the Partnership for Public Service.

For example, he says, agencies make college-recruiting visits in the spring, after many seniors have already accepted job offers, and they look for candidates only when they need them rather than maintaining relationships with university contacts and developing a pool of available talent.

But OPM’s Ms. Holden says that the agencies do maintain relationships with university contacts, and she cites “tons of” entry-level positions that require only an academic degree or general experience, adding that she herself was an intern nearly 30 years ago.

Her department is also identifying barriers to recruiting top talent and working to make job descriptions—often laden with acronyms and complex jargon—clearer. In addition, some agencies are adopting recruiting tactics from the private sector, rolling out a mobile-careers app and taking to social media to attract applicants. According to OPM, nearly a quarter of full-time hires for the federal executive branch were less than 30 years old last year, a figure that has changed little in the past four years. “We are looking at untying those knots and making sure the public understands how they can apply for federal positions,” Ms. Holden says.


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