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The Silver Civil Service Tsunami - How Local Governments Plan to Stay Afloat

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Sipping margaritas at the beach. Scoring a hole-in-one on the greens. Or simply playing with the grandkids in the yard. If we could peek into the minds of U.S. workers, we might find these day dreams sneaking in with increasing frequency. That is because a growing number of employees will soon be eligible for retirement. Sometimes referred to as the "silver tsunami," demographers have long noted that the median age of the workforce has been inching upwards due to that huge cohort of folks born between 1946 and 1964 known as the baby boomers. Almost 10,000 of them are already retiring every day with more to come in the future. While this trend affects employers across the board, it has a special implications for government agencies. Statistically, public servants tend to be older than their private  counterparts. How are municipalities preparing for the loss of so much know-how and experience?


Implications for Local Government

A study by the Center for State and Local Government Excellence indicates that the predicted retirements  are indeed beginning to take place. It found that more than half of governments surveyed saw an increase in retirements in 2015. It also found that recruiting and retaining personnel, succession planning and staff development are among the top concerns in municipal human resource departments. Filling senior management positions in the future may be especially challenging. Mike Maciag, who has written extensively about the phenomena for Governing magazine, points to an ICMA study that reveals 63.3% of city and county managers are over fifty. Local governments are not just at risk of the disruption that can occur with staff turnover, but a tremendous loss of institutional knowledge from the exodus of top level employees.



Darci Hall of Xerox Learning Solutions recommends the very first step is to get an accurate picture of your organization's demographics to see where you stand. An assessment plan is critical to understanding your own unique situation. Once that is complete there are a variety of options being implemented by municipalities to off-set retirement trends:

  • Pennsylvania's Secretary of Administration is exploring which government operations could be performed by the private sector.
  • Houston's Employee Development Department is pioneering a job swapping program where employees switch jobs for a year to insure backups are available in case of vacancies.
  • San Mateo County has a succession planning task force where pre-retirees provide input on what skills are the most critical for their replacements to have.
  • El Paso provides leadership training to current staff via post-graduate university courses held at city locations.
  • Multiple civic employers are experimenting with temporary and part-time positions which allow former staff to return in limited capacities, especially as mentors. This often involves flexible hours, job sharing, telecommuting, re-skilling and other adaptations to the traditional work day.


Appealing to  Millennials

One solution that deserves a bit more examination is recruiting millennials. While they make up about one third of the private sector labor force, they are only one quarter of state, federal and local government workers. Maciag offers specific suggestions on how governments can recruit younger workers including offering fellowship and leadership development programs, using online job applications and connecting with them on social media. Once hired, 93%  said having up-to-date technology in the office was essential to them. They also need opportunities to  meet challenges quickly and feel like they are making a impact.


Millennials as Grant Professionals

Please explore our  Grant Management and Millennials: A Program Analysts Experience post. Guest blogger Bashar Dimitry,  a program analyst for  the City of Detroit, gives us a  millennial's perspective on making a difference as a grant professional. Millennials have already surpassed baby-boomers as the most populous living generation, and their participation in local government  is crucial for smooth transitions today and effective leadership tomorrow.


Building a Grant Funding Strategy for Cities and Counties



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