An analysis piece by Kaylan Billingsley in Government Executiveasks, “What will furloughs mean for young feds?” The answer points to two problems.
First, for young federal workers, often caught up in student loan debt and facing salary cuts, the private sector obviously looks more promising. Billingsley points out that a business job could offer not only more security (a typical government bargaining chip), but also welcome lateral movement. After all, when you have less financial and family obligations to hold you in place, you’re more open to mobility. That’s been a time-honored advantage for people in their 20s embarking on their careers. The first-time job changer has long been sought after by recruitment campaigns, offering the disappointed and disillusioned a chance to pursue dreams before marriage, mortgages and children make their claims.
That’s how job markets work. If government agencies that have largely competed on what TMP terms functional and economic benefits rather than deeper differentiators, they could lose out to competitors that can trump them. However, hasn’t that always been the case? In focus group after focus group, I’ve heard committed entry level people say that they turned down private sector bids though they had superior compensation. The reason? They wanted to serve their country. and government agencies let them serve “one master.” At the end of the day, they could feel like they had made a meaningful contribution. Of course, if an agency doesn’t brand itself internally and externally on psychological attributes, they may not attract people so motivated.
But now we come to the second problem, which is very closely connected to the first: If government, especially the Department of Defense, loses a generation of public servants, it could find itself, as Billingsley says, in “stagnation.”
Whether one is for small or large government, I haven’t heard many advocates for “stagnant” government. When I get on an airplane, I want to feel like the best air traffic controllers and TSA inspectors have been on the job, supported by the latest security equipment. For warfighters in Afghanistan, the stakes are much higher: they need to know that they have reliable, fail-safe equipment, acquired by people who knew what they were doing. So regardless of the size of the Federal workforce, I think most of us want it to be at least as competent as the private sector.
That is why employer branding remains relevant. To attract top committed performers, government agencies as well as companies need to show their psychological benefits. This constellation of emotional attributes, closely connected to mission, form the core of the employer value proposition (EVP). Regardless of workforce size or recruitment demand, the EVP tells prospective candidates why they should consider one workplace rather than another.
And it keeps alive the reasons why public service, no matter how battered by budget cuts, cannot go out of style.