The State Worker

The State Worker: California tries to reach out to millennials

Former state employee Benjamin Schwartz, owner of Benjamin’s Shoe Corp., recently left the treasurer’s office to create hand-made shoes in his shop the Artist Warehouse Lofts.
Former state employee Benjamin Schwartz, owner of Benjamin’s Shoe Corp., recently left the treasurer’s office to create hand-made shoes in his shop the Artist Warehouse Lofts. apayne@sacbee.com

One of the most-read items on sacbee.com this week highlighted risk-taking, creativity and self-reliance. An inspiring tale – and a warning shot for state government.

In case you missed it, Sacramento Bee reporter Blair Anthony Robertson’s story profiled 30-year-old Benjamin Schwartz, who left the state treasurer’s office after seven years to start an R Street shoe-making business.

“I had a good job, but I can’t sit at a desk for 30 years. Even though my job was very rewarding, I didn’t get to do anything creative,” Schwartz told Robertson. “This is the time to take a risk.”

That’s a pretty good summary of what drives his generation, the increasingly influential millennial cohort that the U.S. census defines as the 83 million people in America born from 1982 to 2000. They now outnumber the former King of the Cohorts, the baby boom generation, by about 8 million.

And they’re bringing different sensibilities, skills and expectations to the workplace.

A survey by online employment firm Upwork found that 66 percent of hiring managers questioned said millennials are creative, compared to just 34 percent who said the same thing about Generation Xers (born from 1965 to 1981).

The managers also said millennials are more entrepreneurial, more money-driven and more “solo-oriented.” (One translation: They’re a tad selfish).

Nearly 60 percent of millennials surveyed expected to change jobs within three years, and 79 percent said they would consider quitting regular jobs to work for themselves.

Now match that against the career carrots government has dangled for three generations: Stability and security. Below-market pay in exchange for above-market benefits. Efficiency through repetition. Teamwork.

The conflict doesn’t surprise the people at the top of California’s state-government personnel pyramid. Government Operations Secretary Maribel Batjer talks passionately about overhauling everything from laws to language to make state civil service more inviting to millennials.

Toward that end, the state recently issued a first-ever “engagement survey” to measure state employees’ feelings about their work. Respondents remained anonymous, but they were asked to submit a few bits of personal information, including their age. The state also has more than two dozen working groups focused on making government more nimble and welcoming.

Of course, the idea isn’t merely to be nice to younger employees. Career nomads are bad for government business. When Schwartz left, seven years of training and knowledge walked out the door. Then there’s the cost to hire and train someone else.

And sometimes the Benjamin Schwartzes aren’t replaced. Sometimes their work is handed to colleagues left behind who already have a lot to do. And that might get another 30-something thinking, “Isn’t there someplace I’d rather be?”

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