Public sector eyes millennials to offset retirements

BC Public Service Agency pushes to hire younger workers to fill widening gap

| Shutterstock

One-quarter of B.C. government workers are eligible to retire today, and one-third of its executives are eligible to retire.

“Our demographics are quite stark when you think of us as an employer,” said Lori Halls, BC Public Service Agency (BCPSA) deputy minister.

To help fill the government’s growing attrition gap, Halls said it has millennials atop its hiring list. But she added that government is not necessarily atop millennials’ career list. “So part of our goal now is more extensive outreach.”

According to a KPCB Internet Trends report, in 2015 millennials bypassed baby boomers to became the largest working demographic in Canada. The generation born between 1980 and 2000 is now being coveted by virtually every employment sector. According to B.C. government statistics, the average public-sector employee in the province is 45.8 years old and has worked for the government for 13.8 years. Currently, 26,736 people work for the provincial government (61% are female, and 39% are male); the high-water mark for government employees was in 2009 (27,423 employees) and the lowest was in 2007 (23,942).

BC Public Service statistics tabulated this year also show the B.C. government now has a bigger proportion of workers over the age of 60 than at any other time in the past decade, likely due in part to the “abolishment of mandatory retirement and to the 2008-09 economic downturn and lack of financial readiness to retire.”

Halls said the BCPSA has launched a massive hiring campaign to lure new workers into the public sector.

She added that one of the challenges is making a public-servant career appealing to a younger demographic, which, according to labour trends, tends to stay in a job no longer than three years.

“We are long past the days where people come into a job and stay in that job for 25 or 30 years. So we need to go to [the next generation of government workers] and not just sit back and wait for them to come to us.”

Halls noted a common knock against working for the government is the high level of bureaucracy. According to Statistics Canada, the number of government employees across the nation has increased steadily per 1,000 people since as far back as 1981.

“There obviously is that culture of bureaucracy and those various approval processes that are in place,” said Halls.

David Hannah, an associate professor in Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business management and organization studies department, said it’s a stigma the government needs to address to retain the next generation of employees.

“I think the bureaucracy is definitely a hurdle for attracting millennials,” said Hannah. “Many millennials are very passionate about having a positive impact on the world. And so if they believe that they can do that through the public sector, then I think many would choose jobs with the government.”

So far in 2017 the BCPSA, which is responsible for all human resource duties within the provincial government, has hired 2,121 people across various ministries and agencies, more than in all of 2016. However, 883 people have retired from public service and 812 have resigned. Both those numbers are already the largest yearly totals since 2009.

Halls said one way the government hopes to attract more millennials is by offering less of a top-down management style and more of a flattened out workforce to allow program and other ideas to come as much from entry-level employees as from management. She added that embracing technology could be another way to attract young talent.

According to a Deloitte study, the federal government also has a “millennial problem” when it comes to filling vacancies. Job satisfaction overall for millennials has dropped 5% from 2008 to 2014 as noted in the report.

Halls said embracing new ways of running government will be essential to attracting and retaining millennials and keeping them happy while they work in the public sector.