Job-Hunting Millennials and Employment in the Federal Government

The greying of the federal-government workforce could soon create a hiring crisis as a large swath of older workers retires in the coming years and a new generation declines to fill the breach.

Simply put, most young people who are in job-search mode tend to look elsewhere, finding no motivation to vie for federal government positions that may strike them as more dreary than dazzling.

Dreams of Working for a Startup

“Millennials want to work some place that seems cool, like Google, or at least for a company with a recognizable name,” says Ann Vanderslice, president and CEO of Retirement Planning Strategies, which specializes in advising federal workers about their benefits.

“Not that the federal government isn’t a recognizable name. But it just seems bureaucratic to them, with lots of rules and structures.”

The nonprofit group Partnership for Public Service reports that just 7 percent of federal government jobs are held by millennials, even though they account for 23 percent of the overall U.S. workforce.

Millennials Work - Tim Gouw

In addition to preferring less-bureaucratic employers, millennials also are dissuaded by the online system for applying for federal employment, a website called USAJobs. Vanderslice describes USAJobs as a “hornets nest” of an application system.

“It’s very cumbersome,” she says. “They get lost in it. And then, if you do finish the application, it can take six to nine months for the hiring process to play out. Most of them find other jobs in the meantime.”

A Hidden Gem

But if they’re willing to persist, millennials could find that employment with the federal government is more desirable than they realize, Vanderslice says. Some reasons include:

  • Advancement opportunities. Federal jobs come with an enormous potential to move up quickly because about 30 percent of federal employees are eligible to retire right now, and likely will be retiring in the next three to five years. They are holding higher positions that will suddenly open up, Vanderslice says. That means some young people who start at one of the entry-level positions could be making more than $80,000 in just three to five years.
  • Benefits. Federal employees enjoy exceptional benefits compared to many other workers. Not only do they have health benefits and paid holidays, they also have both the Thrift Savings Plan, a 401(k)-style plan, and a pension, something few private companies offer anymore. ”Millennials, unfortunately, often don’t understand the value of that,” Vanderslice says.
  • Having an impact. Studies have shown that millennials prefer jobs with a purpose beyond making money. Employment with the federal government can provide just the opportunity they are looking for to make a positive difference in people’s lives.

“Not only would millennials benefit from joining the federal government labor pool, but the government would benefit, too,” Vanderslice says. “Millennials could bring with them some of that youthful enthusiasm. They also tend to be technologically savvy. This is a potential match that would work well for both the employee and the employer.”

About Ann Vanderslice

Ann Vanderslice, president and CEO of Retirement Planning Strategies, helps federal employees understand their benefits, maximize the value of their benefits, and plan for retirement, as well as organize income planning and IRA distributions. Vanderslice holds the Registered Financial Consultant designation from the International Association of Registered Financial Consultants and the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor designation from the College for Financial Planning. She also is author of Fedtelligence 2.0 – The Ultimate Guide to Mastering Your Federal Benefits.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

10 Comments

  1. Something worth noting is the way millennials (myself included) view work is different than previous generations. Most aren’t looking to work at one place for 20+ years and move up a corporate ladder. Also, we value work/life balance and the office atmosphere.

    So some millennials are willing to work for a company that may not have the greatest health benefits or “job security” (which really doesn’t exist anyways) if it means they’ll be able to do something they enjoy in an environment that doesn’t make them feel like they’re at “work”.

    Then there’s the huge growth in entrepreneurship that’s taking place. More millennials have dreams of owning their business rather than working for someone else their entire lives, which is a big positive. The “worker” mentality is dying out. There will always be people to fill federal government jobs, but there’s a huge shift away from working at a place with the end goal of having a life that was just “ok”. In order to attract top talent, companies are going to have to start adjusting to become more appealing to what the younger generation wants because there are plenty of forward thinking startups willing to hire them.

    • Some interesting points.

      “Also, we value work/life balance and the office atmosphere.” As do I. I’m not aware of any reason why people that work for the federal government can’t have a great work/life balance. At the end of the day, my experience has been achieving the right balance has more to do with proper planning and decision making (e.g.sound money management) and a lot less to do with a particular employer.

      “So some millennials are willing to work for a company that may not have the greatest health benefits or “job security” (which really doesn’t exist anyways) if it means they’ll be able to do something they enjoy in an environment that doesn’t make them feel like they’re at “work”.” Actually job security does still exist. Granted, that is the case with fewer and fewer employers, but is certainly the case with federal employment. The leadership of any organization is tasked with creating an enjoyable work environment. Every job, and environment, you can imagine in the private sector is also available in the public sector. And just like there are good employers who create a positive/enjoyable work environment/culture and others not so much in the private sector, the same is true in the public sector.

      ” … but there’s a huge shift away from working at a place with the end goal of having a life that was just ‘ok’.” Wow, I didn’t realize my life was just ‘ok.’ In my time as a federal employee, active duty and civil service, I’ve literally traveled the world (Germany, Guam, and multiple places here in the U.S. just in the last few months), travel frequently for pleasure, enjoy a personal income that exceeds $100,000 (a household income that exceeds $200,000), have great health insurance, have access to a defined benefit plan, have access to a defined contribution plan (considered by many to be among the best available), have a tremendous amount of autonomy in my job … I could go on and on.

      While I believe you have some ill-informed ideas about government employment, I absolutely appreciate your dropping by, my friend and sharing your thoughts. It is Millennials like you who were the intended audience. Unfortunately, I believe too many mistakingly don’t consider a job, or career, that offers tremendous benefits and can be quite fulfilling.

      • Thanks for replying! I’ve worked as a government contractor (doing the same work that the federal employees did) so I do have some experience there, and I currently work for a startup so I’ve seen both sides of the fence. Just to give a little more insight into my points:

        Work/life balance: There’s a growing trend among a lot of startups (especially tech companies) that are far more lenient on vacation time than most companies. For instance, some offer unlimited paid vacation time. So you’re never in a position of thinking “Man I need to take some time off but I don’t want to use my vacation hours”. And also companies are allowing people to work from home and have flexible hours outside of the typical 9-5 which is wildly important. When I talk about work/life balance I’m talking about having work revolve around your lifestyle rather than shaping your lifestyle around your job. For instance, if a federal worker wanted to take off every Wednesday afternoon to spend time with their child, how long do you think that would go on?

        Job security: We may have different views on what job security is. Because by my definition job security definitely doesn’t exist. If you have the ability to be laid off (I’m not talking about being fired or let go because you did something wrong), you don’t have job security. Even though a person may feel comfortable in their position, the reality is unless you own the company you’re always susceptible to losing your job. Even if you work for the government. That’s why there’s such a push for entrepreneurship for our generation. We’ve seen older people that thought they had “job security” lose jobs in all industries and sectors.

        I wasn’t trying to imply that anyone that works for the federal government doesn’t have a good life, and sorry if it came off that way. I definitely don’t want to seem like I’m telling anyone their lifestyle is worse off or anything like that. But there’s a quote I love that says something along the lines of “The biggest enemy of great is good.” Everyone has different goals they set for themselves and their own definition of what a good life is. Just speaking from my personal POV, the thought of working 40+ hours a week essentially performing tasks into my 50’s isn’t ideal. For some people that’s fine, and I respect it. I think people should do whatever makes them happy.

        My point is more-so that the public sector can learn a lot from the tech and startup culture that often gets mocked by the older generation (pool tables, free food, standing desks etc.)

        A lot of startups do offer health insurance by the way, just thought I’d throw that in haha.

        • No doubt we all have different expectations, experiences, and everything else that goes into choosing a job/career path.

          In many ways I agree with you about job security. However, isn’t the reality that ‘job security’ doesn’t exist, in any capacity, anywhere? Even the person who owns/runs her own company is susceptible to forces (the economy, globalization, weather, etc.) that might be out of her control. Just because someone owns their own company does not mean they are making an adequate income to provide for their current lifestyle and preparing for a life in retirement. Perhaps it’s just different degrees of security … or perceived security? I’ve been running this blog for over three years now and in that time I’ve grown more interested in the issue of financial security, employment, inequality, and related topics; and have read a lot of material and watched a lot of documentaries. One thing I have seen is a lot of people – public sector, private sector, small business owners, startup employees, etc. – who thought they were on the right path only to be beat down by one factor or another out of their control. I’ve seen the smart, young Millennial who thought he was going to do great things and make a lot of money, only to find himself back in his parent’s home living in the bedroom he occupied back in high school. Similarly, I’ve seen Boomers with advanced degrees who spent x number of years with a company – and didn’t manage their money wisely- who now find themselves unemployed and can’t find a job outside of McDonalds. So again, perhaps there is no real security anywhere.

          “My point is more-so that the public sector can learn a lot from the tech and startup culture that often gets mocked by the older generation.” No doubt. And I would suggest that idea cuts both ways; there is probably something that Millennials and tech startups could learn from Boomers and Gen X (my cohort) and the public sector.

          At the end of the day I think it comes down to each individual choosing a path that works for them. That path might mean being an entrepreneur, it might mean working for a startup in the private sector, or it could mean working at some level of government. It’s less about the specific job or sector and more about how you carve out a space that works for you. Because of course, we wouldn’t have a very productive society and the economy would grind to a halt if everybody was trying to be an entrepreneur, if everybody was trying to work for the latest startup, or if everybody believed THE answer was government employment.

          Thanks for adding thoughtful comments and be well.

  2. This is great James! And the author certainly points out exactly what I was thinking about the jobs not being “cool” to the younger generation. Many still don’t understand the importance of benefits and they’ve been told that pensions won’t be there for them. My husband and I were both public servants (police officer and teacher) and even though we haven’t made large salaries, we had excellent benefits and we both have pensions. There is little written about pensions in the personal finance blog world.

    • Exactly right on each point, my friend, particularly with respect to the value of pensions. Too often, with respect to employment, younger people don’t look past the thing grabbing their immediate attention – and what they often give inordinate weight to, initial salary – and focus instead of the totality of the benefits. As I often tell my daughter, a millennial, the wise person takes the long view. With respect to establishing financial security, that is the only view to take.

  3. Looks like you’re running a recruitment drive for the federal government, James. Is this a new side hustle? I hope they’re paying you well. Your post could end up more successful for them than their own recruitment drives lol.

    • Ha. Nope, not a new side hustle, my friend. I turn away a lot of guest posts because they are too focused on ‘selling’ something and/or really don’t have a message that I believe will resonate with my readers. This is definitely different; and definitely one I wanted to share. As a Federal employee, I am a big fan of the professional opportunities available as a civil servant, and the opportunity to achieve financial freedom. There aren’t many organizations out there that still offer a defined benefit plan AND access to a defined contribution plan (Thrift Savings Plan [TSP] – a 401(k) equivalent – in this case) to their employees.

      To add to the good, the TSP is among the best, if not the best, defined contribution plans out there. A well-rounded selection of index funds with low expense ratios – .029% on average last year – can’t be beat!

      It seems as if a high number of millennials summarily dismiss working as a civil servant. It’s unfortunate because I don’t believe they really have a good understanding of the opportunities available, and perhaps more importantly, how honorable it is to serve in that capacity.

      Thanks for stopping by, my friend.

      • Great points James. I guess it’s a given that you’ll never grow rich working for the government but there are certainly worse ways to earn a living.

        I recently posted an article outlining the benefits of doing an apprenticeship as an alternative to wracking up a student debt going to college. http://www.getfiredasap.com/2016/07/26/getting-paid-to-learn-a-worthwhile-alternative-to-student-debt/

        From my own experience, many moons ago, working as a government employee, they paid for my training, paid me while doing the training, and I got to do classes in paid work time. There’s not many employers that would do this anymore.

        And, working as a civil servant can be a great experience if you plan to move on into the private sector later on. I’m with you on this.

        • “I guess it’s a given that you’ll never grow rich working for the government but there are certainly worse ways to earn a living.”

          That’s the conventional thinking, but I would strongly challenge it. I like to believe I am on my way to meeting my definition of wealthy – I don’t have much use for the term ‘rich’ – and in fact, I like to think of myself as pre-wealthy. With respect to income, although I haven’t checked out the breakdown from the IRS or Census Bureau recently on household income, I’m pretty certain the wife, also a civil servant, and I are in the top 4 or 5%.

          As I often note here on this blog, ultimately, it’s less about what you make and more about what you do with what you make. And the government certainly pays a salary — and don’t forget the TSP – with matching up to 5% – mentioned earlier — that provides an opportunity for a savvy individual to do quite well.

          “From my own experience, many moons ago, working as a government employee, they paid for my training, paid me while doing the training, and I got to do classes in paid work time. There’s not many employers that would do this anymore.”

          Indeed. Same story for active duty military, where I started my career as a government employee. I got more practical experience and training than most people can imagine; and it paid for my Masters degree!

          “And, working as a civil servant can be a great experience if you plan to move on into the private sector later on. I’m with you on this.”

          For the reasons noted above and in my previous response – namely access to both defined benefit and defined contribution plans – I’m staying put 😉

          As always, thanks for taking the time to stop by and provide great food for thought, my friend!

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