A new study shows what many have been predicting – the public sector is losing its most experienced workers at a near critical rate. A Center for State and Local Government Excellence Survey showed that in 2015 retirements were reported by more than 54% of members while in 2014 only 10% reported retirements.
For businesses and people who work as direct partners to government, the loss of institutional knowledge will sting. Navigating the complex bureaucracy of even city government takes knowing how the agencies and elected and appointed officials and their staffs work and whom to go to, a knowledge that can’t be built in a few months or years. More seasoned workers tend to understand the history of processes and their years on the job create efficiencies that can be lost at least for a time after they leave.
The good news is that hiring of state and local workers during the same period is up, with 60% of the same cities and states saying the hired workers. The possibility exists, that the influx of new hires could spell a groundswell of innovation in local and state government as new workers bring their knowledge of technology, entrepreneurial styles, and private management styles to old problems. According to the Pew Charitable Trust, some states are actively recruiting older experienced workers and retired private sector employees to fill the gap. While new entrants to the workforce bring dexterity with social media and next generation project management skills, private sector exports bring experience with interactive initiatives, responsive software, predictive technologies, innovation hubs and transparency tools.
New entrants into the public sector are not daunted by replacing COBOL systems, hiring and managing technology vendors, rethinking inefficiencies and rewriting the rules. Private sector CIOs are well versed in the cloud, analytics, and how a blockchain database could resolve issues of record access and public contract administration.
While we will certainly face a brain drain from the very pronounced loss of government workers, where private sector innovators gather, they bring creativity and energy, perhaps solving problems such as endless paper forms, issues in waste collection and even potholes. While the “Silver Tsunami” may be just beginning as the baby boomers retire from public service in droves, the probability is that a cache of deeply networked problem solvers is at the ready to transform government through private sector style disruption.