The federal workforce is aging. According to the Partnership for Public Service, federal agencies employ 19 times more mission-critical IT employees over the age of 50 than under the age of 30. And a survey by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) found that 43 percent of federal employees come from Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980. Meanwhile, only about 7 percent of federal employees are under 30.
As much of the long-time federal workforce retires and government agencies continue to accelerate digitization, studies such the Partnership for Public Service report have urged the federal government to increase targeting and hiring among young people who are more likely to be tech savvy and adept at adjusting to rapid change. However, federal recruitment may be missing out on the potential that comes from reskilling its majority Generation X workforce, many of whom possess years of relevant experience that younger generations are yet to attain.
Comprising mid-career workers, Generation X is at risk of rising unemployment due to skills gaps and age biases in hiring, as hiring managers look for younger candidates who are expected to possess more current and in-demand digital skills. But a recent report has shown that workers in the Generation X age group outperform other age groups in productivity and expertise. If given the opportunity to reskill and upskill, many of these workers would be able to match their long-term industry expertise with updated digital skills. In fact, 73 percent of workers over the age of 45 said that new training helped them to advance their careers.
Not only are Generation X workers eager to improve their skills, but they also have deep institutional knowledge that is critical to mission success. Federal hiring managers should not overlook the importance of workers with extensive experience and knowledge in the federal space. A focus on bringing needed skills to their current workforce, rather than replacing them with new talent, will retain experienced workers while providing opportunities for growth. Presently, only 32 percent of agencies feel prepared to address this growing need for reskilling current employees.
Fortunately, modern e-learning platforms have paved the way for federal agencies to reskill their workers while tracking competency goals and creating tools for cross-collaboration. Adaptable learning technologies will allow the federal government to invest in their current workforce and prevent age-based unemployment crises and loss of knowledge in the future. In 2019, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) launched a pilot program to retrain federal employees for cybersecurity jobs. The program was met with such high demand that one year later, the OMB launched another reskilling program in data analysis.
The time is ripe for the federal agencies to make large-scale investments in reskilling their workforce. In an interview on closing the digital skills gap, Jeff Maggioncalda, founder of Coursera, said, “It’s a competitive world and the world is changing faster.” As Maggioncalda described, learning platforms like Coursera now enable workers to gain in-demand skills within just 50-100 hours of online coursework. As federal agencies speed up digital transformation, they can quickly keep up with the pace of change by investing in their growing demographic of Generation X workers through reskilling and upskilling programs.