Last updated: 4 ways the public sector can attract Gen Z talent

4 ways the public sector can attract Gen Z talent

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For government agencies, attracting and retaining quality employees remains a pressing problem. Solving it could well depend on their ability to connect with a generation whose members are widely viewed as socially attuned, altruistic, demanding and digitally always on: Gen Z workers.

Gen Z, or people born between 1997 and 2012, are expected to comprise more than 25% of the global workforce by 2025.

This incoming wave of workers presents public sector employers with a compelling opportunity to fill a persistent and widening talent gap. Hiring for state and local government jobs has stagnated despite a significant increase in job openings, according to McKinsey.

The National Council of State Legislatures concurs, noting that the public sector lags far behind private employers on the hiring front, with several hundred thousand government jobs going unfilled.

How can the public sector better connect with Gen Z to become employers of choice? By fostering social, digital, environmental and cultural progress in the following four ways:
  1. Connect with them in their digital space
  2. Appeal to their social and cultural sensibilities
  3. Wow them with compelling digital tech
  4. Provide a personalized employment journey

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Gen Z workplace dynamics

Much of the hiring challenge, of course, comes down to compensation, an area where the public sector struggles to keep pace with private companies. Simply put, government agencies must find ways to ensure that pay increases and total compensation packages are competitive with the private sector.

And if they can’t compete with the private sector on salary alone, they need to get creative with flexible work arrangements, benefits and other workplace perks that resonate with Gen Zers.

New York, for example, last spring announced it would eliminate civil service application fees, offer civil service exams on an ongoing basis, and increase job opportunities for individuals with disabilities.

As Glassdoor observed in a 2024 workplace trends report, shifting workplace generational dynamics have created “a pivotal moment of cultural change that U.S. companies cannot ignore as Gen Z workers—who care deeply about community connections, about having their voices heard in the workplace, about transparent and responsive leadership, and about diversity and inclusion—make up a rapidly growing share of the workforce.”

1. Meet Gen Z workers where they are

Social media—YouTube, Instagram and yes, even TikTok—is not only a prime news source for Gen Z, it’s also where they look for job opportunities.

Agencies that focus their recruitment resources on these platforms and use the language and imagery that speak to Gen Z’s sensibilities stand the best chance of engaging the kind of people they seek.

What’s more, social-savvy HR departments can use the latest artificial intelligence and machine learning recruiting tools to unearth young job-seeking talent.

2. Appeal to their social + cultural sensibilities

Gen Z workers might as well be called Gen ESG or Gen DEI for their collective drive to align with like-minded employers and make an impact with the work they do. That’s not surprising considering the group’s makeup.

Gen Z is more racially and ethnically diverse (48%) than any of its predecessors, according to the Pew Research Center, so an employer’s track record for diversity, equity and inclusion matters. Government job listings should emphasize opportunities for people with diverse backgrounds and the organization’s commitment to inclusivity.

Environment/social/governance performance matters too. Climate change is a major concern, according to Deloitte, with more than half of Gen Z (55%) indicating they research a brand’s environmental impact and policies before accepting a job offer.

Employers, then, must be able to measure and transparently report on their decarbonization efforts and overall sustainability performance.

It’s also important that public sector employers give Gen Z opportunities to use their jobs to drive change on social issues. Almost half of Gen Zers (44%) say they have rejected assignments due to ethical concerns, while 39% have turned down employers that do not align with their values, Deloitte reports.

Bottom line: To attract Gen Zers, agencies must position public service as a way to connect with their values and gain a sense of purpose, along with an opportunity to meaningfully shape their communities and their world.

3. Wow Gen Z workers with great digital tech 

Gen Z has little tolerance for clunky, disjointed digital experiences as job seekers or employees. Public sector employers must make the Gen Z job hunter’s initial interactions with the agency digitally robust, seamless, mobile-enabled and highly personalized. Prospective Gen Z hires expect to be able to apply for work, submit information and track their progress in real time throughout the process, via their preferred device and channel.

The same holds true for the employee journey. “The technology experience is, for many employees, inextricably linked to the employee experience,” Matt Evans, head of employee experience product science at Qualtrics, said in the company’s 2024 Employee Experience Trends report.

“The ease with which work can be done is linked with wellbeing, and influenced by the quality of tools and work processes. Thus, both the HR and the IT functions have a significant stake in how work gets done and the impact it has on how people feel about themselves and their companies.”

Because Gen Z workers expect to have access to intelligent digital tools—for collaboration, communication, automating manual tasks and working in the field, for example—agencies need to keep their back-office technology current.

New technology, regularly refreshed, demonstrates an organization’s commitment to providing employees with the tools they need to succeed in their work.

With IT talent in particularly short supply, public agencies should be actively and aggressively targeting Gen Z with opportunities to develop and work on new public-facing digital services that make an impact at the community level. Offering IT employment opportunities related to contributing to smart cities, advanced public transportation, smart power grid, renewable energy and the like could give agencies a unique edge in recruiting and retaining Gen Z tech talent.

4. Personalize the employment journey 

Gen Z expects the flexibility to work remotely if they want and to structure their hours according to their lifestyle priorities. Agencies should offer those options, where possible, supported by rich collaboration tools, as well as on-demand access to personalized education, reskilling, upskilling and training resources.

All staff should have consistent opportunities to demonstrate their value to the organization by providing employers and managers with feedback and to see their input acted upon. They should also be given opportunities to advance within the agency and even change the type of work they do.

In a tight job market, Gen Z job seekers do have high expectations of—and plenty of leverage with—potential employers. By finding ways to meet or exceed those expectations, public sector employers will give themselves a decided edge in competing for the young talent that’s so critical to addressing a longstanding talent shortfall.

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Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on Route Fifty and is republished here with permission.

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