USA — Workplace Changes Must Have ‘Net Generation’ in Mind

WASHINGTON — The fed­er­al work­place has to adapt to a loom­ing per­son­nel issue that fed­er­al man­agers ignore at the country’s per­il, the Defense Department’s deputy chief infor­ma­tion offi­cer said.

Dur­ing a phone inter­view, David M. Wen­ner­gren said the depart­ment must change to draw in employ­ees who have not known a world with­out the Internet. 

Two shifts are hap­pen­ing in the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, Wen­ner­gren said, and each rein­forces the other. 

First, he said, 971,000 fed­er­al employ­ees will become eli­gi­ble for retire­ment over the next few years. Sec­ond, he explained, is that the world is vast­ly dif­fer­ent from the ear­ly days of tech­nol­o­gy in the fed­er­al workplace. 

“The world has moved to the Web 2.0 vision of ser­vices avail­able any­where — the abil­i­ty to move things through the cloud, to use mass col­lab­o­ra­tion for net­work­ing ser­vices and to bring speed and agili­ty to the deliv­ery of infor­ma­tion capa­bil­i­ties,” he said. “It’s a rad­i­cal set of changes mov­ing us away from the old world, where the answer was always just to build big infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy systems.” 

“The Net Gen­er­a­tion,” as Wen­ner­gren called the ris­ing pool of poten­tial fed­er­al work­ers, sees infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies as a giv­en – like air or water. And unlike their par­ents, he said, they don’t look at join­ing a com­pa­ny or agency and then stay­ing with that job for life. 

“They are our prime tar­get for peo­ple com­ing into the work force – whether it’s 18-year-olds com­ing into the mil­i­tary or 21-year-olds com­ing out of col­lege to join the mil­i­tary or the fed­er­al work force,” Wen­ner­gren said. 

The “Baby Boom” gen­er­a­tion is leav­ing gov­ern­ment ser­vice. Even the youngest among them are retire­ment-eli­gi­ble now, Wen­ner­gren said. 

“The Net Gen­er­a­tion will be tak­ing lead­er­ship posi­tions at a much younger age,” he said. “So we think it is real­ly impor­tant to under­stand what the work force issues real­ly are. What are the norms and behav­iors and pri­or­i­ties of this new work force? What kind of envi­ron­ment can we pro­vide that will help them thrive?” 

Then, he said, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment needs to use the tools avail­able to attract, hire and retain these peo­ple. This must start now, he added, if the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is to succeed. 

Fed­er­al man­agers, he said, need to look at the nature of work and how to cre­ate lead­ers at a younger age. Oth­er aspects include trans­form­ing the rat­ings sys­tem from a once-a-year rat­ing to a more hands-on men­tor­ing approach, he added. 

The good news is that the Net Gen­er­a­tion believes strong­ly in com­mu­ni­ty ser­vice, Wen­ner­gren said. 

“This is a gen­er­a­tion that wants to serve and wants to make a dif­fer­ence,” he said. “But they want to be at a place where they will have the tools and capa­bil­i­ties to get the job done.” 

The fed­er­al work­place must pro­vide the type of envi­ron­ment that allows the new gen­er­a­tion of tech-savvy gov­ern­ment work­ers to use the capa­bil­i­ties they bring, Wen­ner­gren said. This includes pro­vid­ing sys­tems “where peo­ple can get onto the net­work from any­where, work from home, work on the road, [and] can use social media and instant mes­sag­ing and chat [fea­tures],” he added. 

Super­vi­sors need to ask them­selves if they are cre­at­ing an envi­ron­ment that plays to the Net Generation’s strengths. 

“Are you help­ing them to grow and rec­og­nize that this is a place they can make a dif­fer­ence?” he asked. “That’s the key.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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