The Federal government is failing to attract young talent and will need to quickly replace a huge wave of retiring employees within the next few years, according to Kiran Ahuja, director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and Reps. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., and Don Beyer, D-Va.

During an event held at George Mason University today, Rep. Connolly brought attention to the fact that only eight percent of Federal government employees are under age 30, and at least one-third of the workforce is eligible for retirement. In the private sector, he noted, about 28 percent of the workforce is under age 30.

“We’re not attracting the young talent we need to be attracting and we are facing a huge bulge in retirement that has to be replaced,” Rep. Connolly said. “We’re going to have to recruit hundreds of thousands of Federal workers in the next several years, and we’ve got to broaden our ability – and I think that means more flexibility – both in hiring practices and in workplace rules. We’ve got to be less theoretical, more flexible if we’re going to appeal to younger generations.”

“There’s a huge opportunity to do this right, and that’s going to be the great challenge I think Kiran is going to be facing as the new director of the Office of Personnel Management,” he added.

Ahuja agreed with Rep. Connolly and said the Federal government’s current challenge of recruiting a younger workforce “doesn’t work well” with a younger generation that frequently uses social media.

“We don’t toot our own horn. We have our heads down, we’re doing the work,” Ahuja explained. “I think sometimes we forget about, you know, talking about the kind of work that we do… the Federal government actually is a great place and a very cool place to work.”

The three went on to discuss the many benefits of working for the Federal government, which include serving the public, having a good-paying job and pension, making a real difference in other people’s lives, having expanded telework opportunities, and enjoying a clear career path.

Rep. Beyer also highlighted that the Federal government offers “a panoply of holidays,” as well as the Federal 401K, known as the Thrift Savings Plan, which is “the one that shows the greatest return at the lowest cost,” he said.

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“We’re really trying to position the Federal government going forward as a model employer, so it’s not only what we’ve done well, how we think about the entire individual, it’s about how we need to be setting trends in the employment sector around really good workplace policies,” Ahuja said.

Another area in which the Federal government needs to improve is through bolstering the Federal internship program, according to Rep. Connolly. He announced he’s currently working on legislation – in collaboration with Ahuja and her colleagues at OPM – to help improve the Federal government’s internship opportunities and “fashion it in a way that’s mutually acceptable.”

“We have failed, utterly, at constructing an internship opportunity that serves for recruiting,” Rep. Connolly said. “And as we talked a little bit earlier about the recruitment challenge the Federal government faces, we can’t afford that any longer. We have to use internships in a much more robust way to fill our recruitment needs and that gives us an opportunity to get creative, to make it exciting, and to make sure that it’s structured in a way that it’s a fulfilling experience for those who decide to intern.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is MeriTalk's Assistant Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.