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.

The generation connection

Common characteristics of candidates' age groups.

Members of any given generation share the same teachings and form their core values and beliefs based on the same events. The following U.S. generations—as defined by approximate birth years—have shaped, or are shaping, the workforce:

GI Generation (born 1901–1926): Also known as The Greatest Generation or the builders, these employees grew up during the Great Depression and the First World War. It's often said that they saved the world (WWII) and built a nation. Members of this community-minded generation are assertive, energetic, and make excellent team players.

Silents (born 1927–1945): This group came of age during an era of what some may call suffocating conformity. Their formative years are characterized by the advent of peace and suburbia, as well as television, rock 'n' roll, and cars. The prefeminism workforce was dominated by men who pledged lifelong loyalty to the company.

Baby boomers (born 1946–1964): The largest generation to date, this group consists of two subsets. The first was influenced by “the cultural revolution” of the 1960s and '70s that helped develop a save-the-world mentality. The second came of age during the “party-hardy” and economic boom of the late '70s and early '80s. Members of this hard-working generation excelled in the public sector, and their retirements will change the face of the workforce.

Generation X (born 1965–1981): The smallest generation to date, these are the latch-key kids grown up. They watched major institutions fail their parents through company foldings and down-sizing, so the concept of “company loyalty” means little to them. Their era was the first to witness a corrupt U.S. government exposed (i.e., Watergate), so they are cynical.

Entrepreneurial, individualistic, and efficient, Gen Xers want to save their neighborhood, not the world. They want their own space and flexible work schedules that enable quality time with family. They desire a fun, casual work environment with opportunities to learn. They are comfortable working with technology—customized software programs, GIS, Web tools, etc.

Millennials (born 1982–2002): Also known as Gen Y, members of this group prefer to call themselves “millennials.” Raised by ever-present parents, they have great expectations for themselves. Although free thinkers, they would rather work in a collaborative team environment. They want challenges, structure, good pay, and respect. They desire friendly, positive environments with mentoring and feedback.

Like the Gen Xers, they want flexible work schedules and learning opportunities. This generation prefers a high-tech work environment.

According to PUBLIC WORKS' exclusive salary survey (“Are your benefits flying south?,” March 2007, page 48), three-quarters of public-sector employees believe they receive lower pay than private-sector colleagues. And although roughly half of the respondents say their benefits are better than those of private-sector counterparts, many say they are experiencing diminishing benefits, increased employee contributions, and more out-of-pocket expenses. Thus, reworking compensation is critical to enticing talent to the public sector.