According to a new survey by Accenture Federal Services, nine out of 10 federal executives are optimistic that their agency will be able to develop the next generation of leaders over the next three years. And as agencies conduct succession planning in 2016 and beyond, there appears to be a silver lining around the retirement cloud: Over 70 percent of respondents believe the projected wave of retiring federal workers will have a positive impact on their ability to attract and promote new talent.
This optimism is tempered, however, by recognition that the federal sector needs to address a number of challenges. Among the top five cited are lack of career development, attractive competing offers from other organizations, lengthy hiring timeline, lack of mobility with the organization, and lack of career paths.
The survey, US Federal Workforce: A Pulse Check on Today’s Human Capital Challenges, polled 219 US federal executives from more than 50 defense and civilian agencies. It sought to gain insights into the human capital challenges agencies are facing, specifically in the areas of attracting and retaining younger workers, drivers of employee engagement, and the effective use of human capital data and analytics.
The biggest talent-related challenges federal agencies are facing in achieving their workforce vision are not unique to the public sector--attracting new talent and retaining top talent. Federal executives, however, acknowledge that their agencies need to improve in a wide range of areas. These areas include leadership recruitment, leadership skills development, executive coaching, and leadership career path definition.
For more than half of the executives (58 percent), employee engagement has a major impact on their organizations’ productivity, implying a direct effect on bottom-line results and their ability to deliver services to citizens, and/or achieve their mission. Engagement influence on career tenure was also rated high by respondents, indicating engagement may be a key driver of knowledge retention, experience, and leadership capabilities.
Federal executives identified effective use of data as important to understanding their key workforce and talent challenges, and also to improve their forecasting abilities. They feel that there are some challenges to be overcome, as not more than half of the executives surveyed were confident of forecasting their hiring needs accurately. Fifty-nine percent believe at least some improvement is needed in their ability to forecast workforce attrition in the next six months to one year. Additionally, 20 percent indicate significant improvement is required in their ability to forecast talent needs for the next one to five years.
Changes needed to secure a strong future workforce
Federal executives identified a range of changes deemed necessary for easier and faster recruitment and promotion of talent. For example, defense agencies identified better-defined employee learning opportunities and a clearer employee value proposition. For civilian agencies, priorities are better-defined skill sets and competencies and a streamlined application process. Federal C-suite executives also think better-defined career paths are key to improving recruitment and promotion.
Despite the challenges, nine out of 10 executives are optimistic about retaining the next generation of millennials. However, is this optimism realistic? Employees under the age of 30 account for 8.5 percent of departures, a sizable share since this group only represents 7.1 percent of the total federal workforce. While federal executives identified specific changes needed to recruit younger workers—including establishing a flexible work environment and increased use of social media—the retirement swell and rise of the millennial generation makes it imperative for agencies to act today to retain their workforce of tomorrow.
1Partnership for Public Service “Fed Figures 2014-Federal Departures,” August 24, 2014.