Q: Why is the public sector workforce older and more educated than the private sector?
Stuart Greenfield: Look at the last century. The baby boomers were born from 1946 to 1964. Kennedy was elected president in 1960 and said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Man went to the moon. That was followed by the Great Society, during which there was an increase in government programs, therefore a need for more people in the government. It continued even into the Nixon era. There was a much more positive view of government service. And with the expansion of government programs, especially social programs, people felt, “I want to make a contribution. I want to help my fellow citizen.” So there was a huge influx of well-educated people into the government.
Q: Which careers and services are the most vulnerable because of the aging public service workforce?
SG: Because we’ve moved to a much more digital world, information technology and data processing. People don’t recognize the scale of government operations. Each government agency has different rules and regulations, and the people who develop systems develop real specialties. Now they’re leaving and retiring. How well government can make the transition to maintaining existing systems and improving them will be a real issue.
The field of health care, just because it the largest and fastest growing sector in the economy. As the baby boomers retire, they will have a bigger demand for health care. But government has a difficult time competing with what the private sector is able to pay.
In terms of local government – teachers. Typically, where do teachers come from? Women with degrees. If you go back 30 years, the traditional career path of women with degrees led to teaching. But because today women have more diverse careers to select from that pay more than teaching, it will be much more difficult to attract them to the profession.
Q: Is the public sector having more trouble retaining certain expertise compared with the private sector?
SG: Yes. People often come to work for the government for a few years to gain experience, then move to the private sector and increase their salary by 50 percent or more. And they are often making a lateral move because they go to work for a government contractor.
People assume the private sector can do things better than the public sector so ‘let’s contract out.’ But one doesn’t really get a true idea of costs in the government because of the way things are done, because of the fact that labor generally doesn’t cost you any more. Once you’re given a certain number of positions for an agency, what does it cost you to have them do more work? Nothing. Conversely, when you outsource, if you want something extra done, it’s going to cost you.
Governments don’t have a good way of evaluating the cost effectiveness of decision making. But because of the political benefit of downsizing the government, there has been a decline in federal government employees. It’s not like we’re asking the government to do less, so we go out and hire government contractors. Even in terms of the growth of state and local government, there hasn’t been near the growth to meet the demands placed on government.
Q: How can public sector employers improve their recruiting?
SG: Governments provide an extensive diversity of opportunities, yet no one knows about them. It seems to me that someone should think about that in terms of recruiting – “We are government and we have a diversity of opportunities for you.”
Most states have gone to a unified application process. But within a state, each school district may have its own application process. There is going to be such a huge need for teachers, states should have a unified application process so that any school district looking for teachers could view all the applications.
And then there’s branding. Politicians never say anything good about government workers. It’s always easier to blame the workers – even though they aren’t the one passing the laws that create fraud and waste. That’s not a good way to promote one’s brand.