Youth and Government

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State Farm

Why would a young person want to join the government?  What is there about government work that attracts someone to want to work in the government?

A friend of mine, who currently lives in Saskatchewan, has a son who is heavy into politics.  He has been volunteering for political parties since he was sixteen, a mere six years ago, both at the provincial and federal level.  Indeed, during the last election, he was personally asked by the leader of the party to join their campaign and he accepted the challenge.  He’s good at what he does and he enjoys it, but more importantly, he feels that he is making a difference.

Isn’t that what most of us want?  To feel like we are making a difference?

That’s why young people would want to join the government.  And that is why young people leave public service.  The ability to “make a difference” is difficult within the public service.  You need to climb the ladder, lots and lots of climbing, to get into a position where you have the potential to make a difference and then you realize that you have more steps to climb.  Making a difference in the government is difficult.  Policy is not set by the individual members of the government, but by the elected officials.  So if younger people, like the son of my friend, want to make a difference, they go into politics and not the public service.

Within the public service there are rules, regulations, processes, procedures, political games, all of which need to be mastered.  Most young people don’t have the patience for that.  Most young people want to be deemed as being valuable the moment they step into an organization but in the public service that can take years, decades even.  Bureaucracy is a curse, not merely the definition of how the organization runs.

What can we do to encourage young people to join the public service?  What can we offer them that they can’t get anywhere else?  Career progression would be cool, but that would mean that our HR policies would likely have to change.  Freedom to innovate?  Another excellent choice but that would mean changing the culture to accept risk.  Acknowledgement of contribution?  We do that now.  Probably not as well as we could/should, considering how large and diverse the government is, but I’m not sure that any organization anywhere in the world does it perfectly.

It is imperative, however, that the public service enlists the aid of the younger generation.  Millenials, those in the 20 – 36 age range, are the largest population group in North America.  The Pew Research Center says that they will be the most populous generation until at least 2050.  We need to engage and recruit that generation, but we have a lot of competition:  private sector companies.  We need to figure out how to recruit, and keep, that generation or we will find ourselves increasingly out of touch with those that are trying to serve.  Delivering services that no one wants or in a manner which is no longer applicable.

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