Insights

Changing the conversation: Millennials in the federal government 

Act now to make a better Canada tomorrow

Canada’s public service offers millennials a path to a meaningful career with real purpose. But limited opportunities, outdated systems, and cumbersome structures mean governments aren’t realizing millennials’ amazing potential. It’s time to act—and bring the public service into the 21st century.

Government policymaking is more complex and challenging than ever in a world of rising uncertainty.

Now, more than ever, it’s critical that Canada’s public service improves its ability to recruit, nurture, empower, and retain the best and brightest young Canadians—our millennials.

That’s where our latest report, Changing the conversation: Millennials in the federal government, comes in. A lot of people believe millennials and the public service are incompatible—that they represent values and attitudes about work that are completely at odds.

But the facts simply don’t support this viewpoint.

We need to change the conversation about millennials and the public service. Canada needs to modernize the public service to more effectively integrate, develop, and empower every generation—not just millennials—to build an agile public sector suited to 21st century challenges. And we need to start now.

The public sector’s millennial problem isn’t what you think

The public sector’s “millennial problem” isn’t about attracting or retaining them. For many educated young people, the government is an employer of choice.

Then why is it so hard for younger people to get into government?

  • Limited growth in the public service and low retirement rates mean fewer job opportunities than ever for millennials. Older public service workers are staying in their jobs longer, and governments aren’t expanding their departments.
  • Lengthy, cumbersome hiring practices that can take months to complete. Older workers might be able or willing to endure months of interviews and waiting, but younger workers often can’t wait that long to start making an income.
  • Experience takes priority over potential when hiring, putting younger workers at a disadvantage. The days when a younger worker would be immediately hired into an entry-level public service job right out of school are virtually gone. Millennials now often rely on casual and short-term jobs to get their foot in the door.

It’s a tough situation. But we believe governments can turn it around by investing in modernizations that bring the public service into the 21st century.

Modernizing Canada’s public service: Recommendations to get the most from every generation

  • Streamline processes. Shorten hiring processes and make them more responsive to avoid losing millennial high-performers to other jobs. Capitalize on new technologies like e-signatures and digital platforms to improve speed and efficiency.
  • Recruit for potential. Don’t just check boxes; use a holistic hiring approach to determine potential. Embrace technology that can reveal strong leaders hidden in large data sets, and use pilot programs, technology, and other efforts to assess hiring strategies.
  • Mobilize careers. Create professional growth opportunities for millennials through stretch assignments. Use free-agent pilot programs, the Jobs Marketplace and other programs to fill vacancies. Encourage the development of “triathlete” workers with experience in the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors by facilitating movement between all three. And stop discounting skills and experiences obtained outside the public sector.
  • Break out of the box. Revamp outdated, classic workspaces into the progressive work environments of tomorrow. Kill the cubicle to bring down barriers between employees and departments and effectively service non-local teleworkers. Break down organizational walls by adopting a more flexible approach to job classifications and hierarchical structures.
  • Create incentives for innovation and drive diversity. Reward innovators and outside-the-box thinking, and create space for successes that upend the status quo. Integrate diverse voices into teams to avoid the groupthink and self-censorship that lead to unsurprising and average outcomes.
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