One half of the federal workforce is eligible to retire today. The average age of federal employees is over 46 years old – significantly older than the U.S. workforce. For much of the past decade, observers have been lamenting this impending retirement tsunami in government because of the potential loss in talent.
Organizations like the Partnership for Public Service were formed to address this potential crisis – to recruit young people and to streamline government hiring processes to make that happen. Its most recent report recommends the new president be the “recruiter in chief.”
President-elect Barack Obama seems to have done this. He says he wants to “make government cool again,” and the number of people applying for the roughly 3,300 full-time political jobs available has already exceeded 330,000. At this point, it would be easier to get into Harvard!
How do you harness this excitement to serve? The election seems to have triggered a renewed interest in public service. The real challenge may not be recruiting a new generation in the federal government but rather how to engage the energy of a wide range of Americans in public service – in government, in non-profits, in their communities. The Millennial Generation (those born since 1980) seems to get it. They are seen as the new “civic generation.” The Washington Post this past weekend reported a huge increase in the number of young applicants for Teach for America — 37,000 applications for 5,000 spots.
TIME magazine’s feature piece last year on National Service contributed a great deal of interest, creating a ServiceNation effort culminating in a summit in September promoting the concept.
Interestingly, the Obama campaign site, www.mybarackobama.com , continues beyond the campaign. Reports suggest that it is trying to create a broader grassroots movement beginning with the existing base of 13 million people who registered. This weekend, for example, the network is encouraging “meet ups’ in homes across the country on issues facing the nation that participants would be willing to help tackle. In addition, the presidential transition website, change.gov, has launched efforts to engage citizens on key issues facing the nation, with hundreds of thousands participating by raising questions and voting on issues. Some question whether this is real or a gimmick, but the notion of engaging citizens, promoting government service, promoting national service, and creating grassroots social networks seems to be gaining traction.
Clearly, the transition effort is going far beyond the typical “create an agenda and identify appointees.” The transition effort seems to be testing out new ways to govern, as well.