Local government has an image problem – not enough young people rate the sector as a career choice.
If we don’t find a way to make our workplaces more inspiring, there’s a real chance we won’t have enough people to run our cities in ten years’ time.
There are fantastic careers in local government, but the fact that many Gen Ys don’t find local government sexy shows we are we are not communicating this well. Nor are we making the pathway to those opportunities easy and visible.
There would be merit in a feisty public relations campaign to broadcast the sector’s career opportunities, but first our industry urgently needs to understand why the sector is unattractive to many. Then we need to develop lasting strategies to create a more vibrant culture to become a place they want to work.
Is the LG Workforce stuck?
Our 2017 Australasian LG Performance Excellence Program’s data shows an ageing workforce in many councils, especially in NSW, are in no hurry to retire. Baby Boomers (and older) in the state’s councils outnumber Gen Ys (and younger) nearly two to one (42 percent vs 24 perecent). This compares poorly with Australia’s overall workforce, which now has more Gen Ys (41 percent) than Baby Boomers (34 percent) for the first time (ABS, 2016).
While we have seen a positive shift in the generational mix since our 2013 survey, when Baby Boomers were a staggering 51 percent of the local government workforce, the sector is still slow off the mark in its preparation for the required leadership succession that lies ahead.
The recent survey results also show local government in NSW has a very stable workforce, with an overall staff turnover rate that has remained consistently lower – 12.2 percent – when compared to what many consider to be a healthier staff movement In Western Australia and New Zealand, which are turning over at rates of 14.7 percent and 17.4 percent respectively.
While the retention of skills and corporate knowledge is positive, the lack of staff movement limits opportunities for new talent and finding a place for the next generation to enter the local government workforce.
The low turnover rate also impacts how those who do start with council see their future. Will it be dynamic? Will it allow them to progress? This plays a part in the sector’s ability to attract and retain a next generation workforce fast enough to guarantee sustainability.
The ageing workforce is not the only reasonfor local government’s looming capacity gap, but it is a key element in a series of factors converging to stall the sector. These include a deficit in succession planning and a breakdown of staff turnover rates at odds with the broader working population. More Gen Ys leave, more Baby Boomers stay.
When we look at staff turnover alongside the Gen Y turnover rates, the workforce problem intensifies. Almost one in five Gen Ys in NSW (17 percent) leave within a year of starting – so even when we do attract new staff we are not doing enough to retain them.
Exciting the Next Generation
In 2017 only 11 percent of NSW councils had formal succession planning in place. It is concerning that so many councils are not preparing Gen X and Ys to step into higher grade roles.
As Baby Boomers retire they often take knowledge and corporate history with them. We need to develop modern transition to retirement options to ensure we are implementing processes and programs that demonstrate the value of their inimitable experience and ensure it is passed on to the next generation.
Workplace culture is a term bandied around a lot when talking about accommodating Generation Y or Millennials. It is critically important to understand the workplace expectations of this generation.
What is their image from afar or experience of working in local government and dealing with its processes? Does it have any prestige? Is it a contemporary environment or do they view or experience it as staid, slow and technologically backward? Whatever the perceptions and experience this demographic is not rushing to invest in a local government career.
So while NSW local government focuses on creating a more vibrant workplace, do we also need to get creative in promoting local government? Perhaps the hugely well-received and highly entertaining recruitment program for the NZ Police could inspire us – it’s funny and offers excitement.
We have only a few years to deliver sustainable change to prepare for the next decade’s retirements. We need a consistent value proposition that speaks to the next generation about the value of a career in local government via as many channels as possible to start from the inside out and start now.
Annalisa Haskell is CEO of Local Government Professionals Australia, NSW, the leading association representing all professionals in NSW local government. It is part of a national federation of associations. Annalisa is developer of the Australasian LG Performance Excellence Program, developed in collaboration with PwC.
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