Launch Slideshow

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The Replacements

The Replacements

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    Photo: Stephanie Diani/Getty Images

    Millennial Lindsey Mannan (left center) and Gen Xer Kathy Mahboubian (right center) are being groomed by their baby-boomer mentors Jill Thomas (left) and Alan Oswald to navigate the ins and outs of the Engineering & Building Department in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

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    Photo: Morton College

    Right: Since Morton College, Cicero, Ill., was refurbished to attract the latest generation of students, enrollment has increased. Two students share ideas over a laptop, which is built into a cubby wall that provides quiet computer space in the college's hallways.

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    Photo: Operations and Maintenance Division, Washington County, Ore.

    Ben Walnum gets acquainted with the public sector as an intern for Washington County's Department of Land Use and Transportation.

One example is the traditionally rigid work hours of public-sector jobs: “The younger generation coming up wants flexibility,” explains Voorhees. “We need to find a way to give it to them.”

This can be done by offering telecom-muting and work-at-home options to employees whose work can be done by personal computer and e-mail. Another option: restructure schedules so employees can choose to work early or late hours. And still another is to create 10-hour shifts so employees can work four days and have three days off, instead of 8-hour days five days a week.

These quality-of-life options appeal to younger professionals striving to find balance between their work and personal lives, says Keith Reester, public works director in Loveland, Colo. But public agencies need more than altered work schedules to plug the holes left by a retiring generation.

A PLAN TO SUCCEED

For more than a decade, Reester has been researching how to replace retiring baby boomers in public works and engineering fields. Last year the American Public Works Association named him a 2007 International Fellow for his work.

According to his findings, the following four steps are essential to preparing employees for the mid-level and leadership roles soon to be vacated by retirees:

1. Find and hire the right people. Ask your most recent hires how they found their jobs, why they decided to take their jobs, and how their friends look for jobs. Use that information to decide where and how to recruit.

It's especially important to understand how younger generations search for jobs. For instance, “85% of Gen X and Ys [millennials] start and complete their job searches on the Internet. Yet a lot of departments still spend most of their money on newspaper ads,” Reester says.

Organizations also need to reach the right talent. Reester stresses the importance of building relationships with schools, universities, and technical colleges, and creating internship programs that introduce students to the public sector (see the case study on page 30 for an example).

2. Develop and retain employees. Invest in people so they will stay. This means providing proper training and an appealing work environment. For younger employees, an ideal workplace has work-life balance, mentorship and feedback, growth/advancement opportunities, ongoing challenges, and learning opportunities.

“I've heard that as soon as Generations X and Y stop learning, they start looking,” says Reester, who himself is a Gen Xer. “They don't want to do the same thing year after year.”

Most employees under the age of 43 grew up watching their parents face the ramifications of a turning economy. They are keenly aware that corporate loyalty can change on a quarterly report. This makes their perception of time (in terms of growth and advancement) and company loyalty less accommodating than older employees.

“The Gen X/Y patience factor is five years,” Reester says. “If they don't see forward motion, they'll leave.”

On the flip side, if a working environment allows younger workers to enjoy their work, they will stay. It's worth creating that environment. “It costs you a lot of money when somebody walks out the door,” Reester says. “You lose an employee, a skill set, and experience.”