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The Future of the Federal Workforce

There’s an old adage asserting that once hired as a federal employee, you have a job for life because the Government rarely fires anyone. Outside active duty careers in the military, which is uniquely designed to incentivize service tenure, the federal civilian workforce at large is a relatively static body that does not fluctuate much with respect to dynamic external factors like other industries. The workforce challenges are serious and likely to get worse with budget shortfalls and tight labor markets. The complexity of the civil service system compounds the problems. An opening statement in a recent report from the National Association of State Chief Administrators relevant at all levels of government: “In the battle for talent, government is falling too far behind in preparing for the workforce of the future.” Unlike other orgs where the kaleidoscopic effect of workforce demographics tends to be more commensurate with varying external threats and opportunities, federal agencies must endure evolving landscapes using most of the same people. Each agency handles keeping its workforce proficient differently and at dissimilar speeds, but cultures are often stagnant and resistant to change. However, outside the federal career arena, contemporary employment is undergoing radical shifts with increasing rates of change. When individuals have access to better technology and lifestyle in their private lives compared to working under outdated policies via antiquated business practices using ancient technology to do their jobs, the contrast between working for the government vs. working for non-government employers becomes more obvious. The following are some key forces re-shaping how work will be done in the not-too-distant future confronting federal agency cultures:

  • Accelerating changes brought about by technology, such as virtual employment via the Gig Economy, automation, robots and driver-less vehicles
  • The growing demand for technical skills, such as cybersecurity
  • Changing employee expectations, such as a desire for greater team autonomy
  • Shifting labor demographics, such as an increase in older workers in some areas and younger ones in others
  • Different work models, such as an increasing reliance on work done through complex partner ecosystems instead of within a single organization
  • Evolving operating environment, such as greater political and economic volatility

As agencies are forced to contend with employment reform influences, just imagine the potential long-term impacts on the federal acquisition process and contracting community. Food for thought.

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