In brief

In brief

  • Together with Accenture and NEOGOV, NASCA surveyed state Chief Administrators to understand critical workforce goals and challenges.
  • The research affirmed states’ challenges in finding and retaining top talent and the urgent need to reimagine their workforces.
  • The report recommends changes to reshape recruiting and transform employee experience—and shares examples of states making progress in both.

Research findings and recommendations

State governments have always had to compete for talent. Now the challenges are reaching a fever pitch thanks to demographic and social forces. While state leaders recognize the obstacles, most aren’t yet doing enough to overcome them. New research from the National Association of State Chief Administrators (NASCA) in collaboration with Accenture and NEOGOV with assistance from the National Association of State Personnel Executives (NASPE) suggests that as the public and private sectors battle for talent, government is falling too far behind in preparing for the workforce of the future.

To close the gap—and attract the best talent—states must start making bold moves today.

Top 3 State Workforce Challenges


State Chief Administrators citing difficulty attracting new employees to work for the organization as a top 3 challenge


State Chief Administrators citing establishing a flexible and agile workforce as a top 3 challenge


State Chief Administrators citing the growing number of retiring employees as a top 3 challenge

Acknowledgement of the "problems" of talent recruitment and skills development is the good news. The bad news? The value of the traditional "package" of tools for dealing with those problems is significantly diminishing.

Challenge: The traditional value proposition for government employees is eroding

Governments historically have had a compelling proposition to offer workers: secure lifetime employment and generous health benefits followed by a robust pension for retirement. In many states, that bargain is now eroding. With state workforce levels still below pre-recession levels, ongoing layoffs and federal actions impacting union activity, job security is no longer seen as a given with state employment. Meanwhile, workers are being required to kick in ever-larger contributions toward health benefits. And defined benefit pensions are underfunded, being phased out for new joiners or both. Compounding these challenges are other key factors, as shown below.

Changing expectations

Lifetime employment now has less appeal, especially among millennials.

Lack of public support

Some governors and legislatures are villainizing their own workforces. That can hurt public support and damage perceptions of state employment.

Inability to compete

Eighty-five percent of states cited an inability to offer salaries competitive with the private sector, where growth is shrinking the total available labor pool.

Union considerations

Though not a factor for every state, 45% of respondents reported that at least half their workers are members of a union.

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It’s time for significant change and modernization at every phase of the employment life cycle—starting with reshaping recruiting.

Opportunity: Reshape recruiting

By focusing at the top of the funnel, states can improve the flow of potential talent into the government workforce. The findings of our study point to some specific opportunities to transform recruiting.

Modernize job descriptions

It’s time to rethink how you categorize and describe the work you do around talents and characteristics rather than focusing on titles, government scales or jargon that will soon become obsolete.

Consider training as a strategic weapon

Compared to private-sector employers, states are more likely to share responsibility for keeping employees’ skills current. That’s a real differentiator. Invest accordingly.

Build your brand

Craft a new employee value proposition that emphasizes your strengths: Opportunities to make meaningful contributions. Flexible work arrangements. Interesting and varied work within one employer.

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Opportunity: Transform employee experience

Once state governments are actively reshaping recruiting, we recommend they dig into the rest of the employee life cycle. Research and front-line experience highlight four ways to transform.

Streamline the search

Take a hard look at current processes for job search and application. Chances are, they’re “clunky” and primed for transformation. Aim for fast, simple and intuitive.

Improve experience through automation

Digital transformation, including using automation to augment human resources, is key not only to better serving citizens but also attracting and retaining a strong workforce.

Modernize job evaluations

View this process as a strategic tool for employee retention. High performers are more likely to stay if they see some sort of reward or recognition (not necessarily monetary) in the process.

Get serious about succession

Assess which jobs/roles need succession planning and the best way to accomplish this planning and preparation. Job sharing or shadowing, standard operating procedures and cross training are options.

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Job One for your state is rethinking your workforce. Step One is to be bold in your approach. Take action today.

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