How Government Agencies Are Solving Hiring Challenges with Technology

Viktoria Kurpas/

Modern workers have little patience for the traditional 8-to-5 work schedules that persist in many government agencies.

Five years ago, the Social Security Administration did something you would not normally expect from one of the oldest government agencies: It piloted a nationwide telework program.

Initially, as you might expect, the program had its skeptics. Many predicted it would lead to a deterioration in operational efficiency and service quality among SSA employees. After all, they reasoned, if you let employees do their jobs from home, there would be too many distractions to get any real work done. However, research proved critics wrong, showing SSA employee performance improved when working remotely.

The SSA program, which has expanded since its introduction, is the latest example of how government agencies are aiming to attract younger talent with flexible, efficient and adaptable work scenarios enabled by modern technology.

The public sector must maintain its focus on attracting the right talent because, like in the private sector, government agencies are struggling to find and recruit job candidates with desired skills from what has become a very tight labor pool in the United States.

However, in this area, the public sector potentially has an image problem. Today’s new workforce does not view government agencies as the hip, technologically savvy startups many young people entering the workforce desire. This is a problem that agencies must address. The public-sector workforce is among the oldest of any vertical industry in the country, with a median age of 45.6. Many of these individuals are thinking about retirement and the new employees who would replace them will either be millennials or members of Generation Z. These are young people who have grown up with mobile and connected technology and expect to be able to use it in their daily jobs.

The private sector has begun to tackle this issue, recognizing the need to compete for the right talent, started deploying the types of modern technology that would appeal to these younger workers. To build workplaces of the future that will accommodate the next-generation of eager, young employees, government agencies should take a page from the private sector and deploy technology-enabling flexible working arrangements, encouraging digital collaboration, and providing strong security to safeguard vital information.

Flexibility Is a Necessity for Young Talent

Many people tend to check in on work—whether they’re at home or on the road. This is especially true for modern workers, who have little patience for the traditional 8-to-5 work schedules persisting in many government agencies. The new mantra is: “Work at home, live at the office.” Young people see flexible working arrangements as more conducive to productivity, collaboration, innovation and engagement, according to a Deloitte survey.

For remote work scenarios to succeed, employees need access to modern, enterprise-class technology including laptops, tablets and smartphones that they can take with them anywhere. A few years ago, this meant providing great smartphones and powerful laptops. Today some workers are rebelling against carrying too many devices. We are starting to see a new breed of 2-in-1 detachable laptops emerging as well as powerful virtual reality-ready mobile workstations as the go-to choice for technology at work.

Ultimately, technology decisions will come down to the type of work being done by each employee. For instance, not everyone needs a virtual reality-capable workstation to do their job. Organizational leaders should select technology for scenarios that make sense for specific job requirements.

Facilitating Digital Collaboration

All of us want to do a good job, and in this connected age, we all instinctually understand we have got to collaborate to succeed.

Keeping in mind remote work and collaboration trends, some companies are rolling out small, interactive workspaces, booths or “huddle rooms” to encourage productivity and virtual group meetings. Many of these spaces come outfitted with video conferencing equipment to enable conversations with other offices around the world. Others are dedicated to enabling remote meetings, and some even include augmented reality, virtual reality and blended reality technology to facilitate cross-team collaboration.

These are the types of technology younger talent looks for when weighing prospective employers. And while innovations like VR might not be the right choice for every government agency, simple tools facilitating collaboration and breaking down outdated silos will foster a better image for public sector employers in the talent market.

The Cybersecurity Concern

Ever read an email or scanned private information online while in a coffee shop? We’ve all done it and assume no hackers are nearby waiting to intercept our private information. And we often reason that, even if our systems are compromised, we’ll be fine. We’ll recover.

That may be true, but when a government worker puts information at risk, it could compromise national security—and there is no fast recovery from that. In truth, many government agencies are doing a fine job of protecting their network assets. But if they are going to allow remote work and digital collaboration scenarios, they have got to extend cybersecurity outward to endpoints, spanning desktop computers, laptops and even network printers.

According to one study, 60 percent of cyberattacks target notebooks and desktop computers. Another study indicates up to 60,000 printer models, potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks, could undermine organizations around the world.

As part of any workplace-of-the-future program, public sector leaders should be sure to prioritize endpoint devices with built-in security features, such as hard drive encryption, embedded identity and access controls (such as facial or fingerprint scanners) and even integrated privacy screens. These options may cost a little more, but the added protection they provide to security sensitive organizations is priceless.

As government agencies look to stem the flow of a rapidly retiring workforce, they will need to modernize their operations to win the war for talent. These small adjustments can help government agencies attract the right kind of talent into their organizations. By emphasizing technologies enabling flexible work styles, digital collaboration and cybersecurity, it is possible to make a seamless transition to the federal workforce of the future.

Todd Gustafson is the president of HP Federal.