Placing Local Government on the Talent Agenda

I often boast about my talented colleagues at the League and the inspiring work they do. This post about attracting young, talented people to careers in local government is from Jessica Reed. Jessica is one of those young, talented people that she writes about in her post. Her duties at the League include working with cities and villages to attract the best and the brightest to careers in city management, downtown development and other “on-the-ground” positions at the local level. I’m sure she would love your feedback on the blog. (  And… if you’re looking for work in this arena…


Earlier this week, during President Obama’s State of the Union Address and Governor Snyder’s State of the State Address, our government leaders reiterated a consistent vision of workforce development and talent attraction. In Michigan specifically, the Governor praised initiatives like the Workforce Development Agency and Pure Michigan Talent Connect to attract, educate, and retain talent in local industries. The message is clear: we want our talent employed in our businesses – but what about our local governments?

Millennials at City HallLocal government is the place where people can improve and empower their communities. For millennials looking for ways to better their world, local government should be ideal. The Center for State & Local Government Excellence 2014 report tells us that local government is experiencing a hiring spike. 40 percent of governments have either returned to the pre-recession workforce size or shown growth. 55 percent hired more employees in 2013 than in the previous year. 50 percent saw a higher retirement rate than the previous year.

Great news – but young talent is not flocking to local government or even staying in Michigan. The state has shown a net loss of educated 22-to-34-year-olds since 2009, and lost 3.5 percent in 2013 alone. It is no surprise where those who do relocate to Michigan are heading: Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, and Lansing/East Lansing. Urban areas with a strong sense of place and a wealth of nonprofit employment opportunities.

It is becoming increasingly apparent we have a demand for talent to fill the local government ranks, and an inability to attract the workforce we need. Local government just doesn’t work without HR specialists, building inspectors, managers, and wastewater treatment plant operators – positions that are becoming difficult to fill. So what can we do? How do we put local government back on the talent agenda and make sure that our communities are staffed and run by the most capable individuals?

1) Create communities with a strong sense of place and amenities that attract young talent
2) Change the narrative that surrounds local government: it should be known as the place where one can make difference and be connected to the community
3) Question yourself: is your government somewhere that people feel challenged, empowered, and rewarded?
4) Plan and invest in your employees: offer professional development and training opportunities to allow existing employees to grow within your organization
5) Hire outside of the box: look for innovation and transferable skills over a strict definition of related experience
6) Examine the licensing process for many of your technical positions: do they create an unnecessary burden?
7) Partner with educators: our universities and technical institutes may need your expertise to anticipate the positions you need filled

Let’s be ahead of the curve and make sure to prioritize people in local government.