Are Government Jobs a Good Fit for Millennials?

Public Service can Offer Millennials an Opportunity to Make a Contribution

Posted Jan 26, 2015

The baby boomer generation is reaching retirement age and leaving the labor market in large numbers. The civil service, much like the private sector, is facing the prospect of a massive shortage of managerial and knowledge workers.  According to the US Census Bureau, it is projected that the proportion of the population in the working ages (18 to 64) will drop from 62.8 percent to 57.3 percent between 2012 and 2030.  Complementing this trend, young workers (Generation Y or Millennials) are also entering the workforce for the first time.  Given falling unemployment and a tight labor market, it will be the Millennnials who will be selecting which organizations they want to work for. 

The Millennial generation are those born after 1982, and they represent the workforce of the future.  As children of the Baby Boomers, the Millennials have been raised in a relatively middle-class environment, leading to reports of Millennials as exhibiting high self-esteem, a strong sense of entitlement, and are narcissistic.  Recent studies also suggest that the Millennials report a high degree of preference for materialistic rewards and a lower concern for others, key values which form the motivational bases for public service. 

Millennials feel empowered to do anything they want and they have great expectations for fulfilment and meaning in their work.  They are constantly looking for ways to lead purposeful and interesting lives, and seek out intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards.  Therefore, it is unclear if Millennials are attracted to public service and if public service is a good fit for Millennials.

Ng and Gossett examined the career choice among a large sample of Millennials in Canada.  They found that Millennials report balancing personal life and career, pursuing further education, and making a contribution to society to be among their top career goals.  Millennials also expect their employers to have high ethical standards, conduct themselves in socially responsible ways (e.g., environmental responsibility), and to offer a progressive work environment (e.g., tolerance and diversity).  Lastly, Millennials value job security (likely a result of seeing their Baby Boomer parents experience corporate downsizing), sponsorship of future education, and inspiring colleagues in the workplace. 

Indeed, research has shown that public service employees were more likely to report a sense of accomplishment, meaningful and interesting work, and making a contribution to society than their private sector counterparts.  Government jobs are also known to offer good work/life balance and job security

As it turns out, the Government of Canada was the employer of choice among Canadian Millennials surveyed for this study.

Eddy Ng is F.C. Manning Chair in Economics and Business at Dalhousie University, Canada. He co-authored the study with Charles Gossett at California State University, Sacramento “Career Choice in Canadian Public Service: An Exploration of Fit with the Millennnial Generation” in Public Personnel Management" (Sage).  Follow Ed on Twitter @profng.