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The Canadian Public Service has a ‘millennials problem’: Deloitte report

Despite attraction to job opportunities, Canadian millennials are finding it frustratingly complicated and challenging to thrive in the public service, where their transformative potential is needed most

Toronto, June 12, 2017 — Although millennials—the generation born between 1980 and 1995—now constitute the largest share of working-age Canadians, they are finding it frustratingly complicated and challenging to thrive in the public service, according to Deloitte’s new report titled, Changing the conversation: Millennials in federal government. The research finds that the federal public sector faces significant challenges when it comes to millennials, who now, at 37 per cent, account for the largest generational share of working Canadians.1  But those challenges, contrary to popular perception, are not about the relative attractiveness of public service to millennials, nor millennials’ willingness to commit to long lasting government careers once they’ve gotten started.

“The facts show that millennials are attracted to public service careers. Hiring programs that target younger workers continue to receive a high number of applicants. And in terms of retention, the number of millennials leaving public service remains low. However, job satisfaction among millennials has fallen slightly, from 82 per cent saying they were happy in 2008 to 77 per cent in 2014,” said Charles Perron, Canadian Federal Leader at Deloitte.  “So while the public sector does have a ‘millennials problem’, attracting them isn’t it. And neither is retaining them.”

Building on its strengths – and addressing its challenges

As it stands, Canada’s public sector already has significant successes with millennials on which to build. These include, as noted, a strong record of attracting and retaining millennials, lateral mobility, meaningful work, and opportunities for work-life balance. Along with innovative technology tools, such as the government’s online jobs marketplace and pilot programs based on Deloitte’s GovCloud staffing model, the public sector has made huge strides in becoming an enticing employer to Canada’s youngest working generation. But there is still work to be done.

Limited growth in the public service and a low rate of retirement means there are less job opportunities than ever for millennials. The point of entry for young workers is narrowing, the number of jobs posted in 2008 was about 5,000, but that number dropped to around 2,700 in 2016. And over the past five years, the total number of retirements has declined, while the percentage of employees eligible to retire has risen. This points to a hard road ahead for millennials who wish to work in the public service. 

What’s more, many younger workers also feel rudderless within government structures, which can be excessively hierarchical, and where actionable ideas are subject to many layers of approvals. These challenges are not necessarily the result of ill-intent or mismanagement—nor, indeed, are they unique to Canada—but rather stem from the structure and historical development of the public service model. 

Millennials want the same things as other generations – but achieve goals differently

Whereas popular perception continues to hold that millennials have set new standards for selfishness, impatience, and superficiality, the facts paint an altogether different picture. 

Research instead shows that, as a whole, millennials want the same things and value the same things as other generations. Where they differ is in the ways they go about achieving their goals. And that is largely to do with them being the first generation of digital natives, a generation at ease with digital tools from an early age, many of whom had access to text messaging and social media as early as elementary school. This generation craves new and evolving technologies—the sophistication, proliferation, and mobility.

We’ve been having the wrong conversation when it comes to Millennials

Interviews conducted with federal government officials highlighted ongoing challenges related to onboarding and the ability of government to recognize, reward, and promote innovators internally—regardless of their age. Improvements in these areas especially could help the public sector get more out of its millennial workforce.

Deloitte’s recommendations are clear: to meet the difficult and evolving challenges of the 21st century, it is now more important than ever that our federal government recruit, develop, and empower the best and brightest young people the country has to offer. If it fails to do so, it risks falling behind.

“We’ve been having the wrong conversation about millennials, but it’s not too late to have the right one. In order to tackle the challenges ahead, the public sector must embrace the newest generation of Canadian workers, recruit the finest and sharpest, and mine their diverse talents,” added Perron. “They are keen. They are ready. And they are our best hope to propel Canada’s public sector toward its brightest possible future.” 

The full report and additional resources related to these findings are available here.

1 Doug Norris, “Millennials: The Newest, Biggest and Most Diverse Target Market” (Environics Analytics, November 2015) 

About Deloitte
Deloitte, one of Canada's leading professional services firms, provides audit, tax, consulting, and financial advisory services. Deloitte LLP, an Ontario limited liability partnership, is the Canadian member firm of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited.

Deloitte refers to one or more of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, a UK private company limited by guarantee, and its network of member firms, each of which is a legally separate and independent entity. Please see www.deloitte.com/about for a detailed description of the legal structure of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited and its member firms.

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