Washington state government’s location is both a blessing and a curse.
Situated in one of the nation’s top technology hubs, near companies like Microsoft, Zillow and Amazon, the state can compete for top technology talent. The problem lies in persuading those people to join the government workforce.
“We’re lucky in that we are in the middle of nowhere, but the competition is strong,” said Washington Deputy CIO Michael DeAngelo.
DeAngelo spoke on Thursday during a series of Ignite-style talks centered on NASCIO’s annual top 10 CIO priority list during the organization’s 2016 Midyear Conference in Baltimore.
For years, DeAngelo said, the government recruitment model lived on three pillars: a job for life, great benefits and a real mission.
Times have changed, though, and now two of those three are no longer relevant. Millennial workers job hop more than any other generation; and large tech companies offer fun and exciting work environments, complete with benefits ranging from five months of maternity leave to nap pods for tired employees.
“For us, we have to double down on the sense or purpose around our work, because that’s our advantage. We just need to market it better,” DeAngelo said.
His main example: Would you rather ship boxes for Amazon or help save lives in government? The challenge is to improve other parts of government work to provide an incentive to employees beyond salaries that, admittedly, are below private sector offerings.
One way to do that is through employee development, DeAngelo said. Too often, agencies fear that by training employees, they will give them the skills to take other, more lucrative jobs, but that’s a fallacy.
“Yes, if you train them, some will leave, but just imagine if you don’t train them and they stay,” he said.
Another way to incentivize employees to stay is by improving the workplace — doing away with stuffy government offices and building an environment that empowers collaboration.
“We need to think different,” DeAngelo said. “The mission of government is important. Millennials want to feel their work has purpose, a sense of mission, but they also want a work environment that is flexible, encourages growth and gives them autonomy.”