city hall

The ‘Parks and Rec’ effect and Philly’s plan to lure younger city workers

A couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia managing director Richard Negrin reached out to several millennials in fields ranging from business to politics to tech to meet at the City’s Innovation Lab. He was looking to answer a question:

How can the city make local government jobs appealing to young people?

It’s no secret why this is a major issue. Negrin’s office found that in up to five years, some 36 percent of city employees will be eligible for retirement or at least a deferred retirement plan. That’s a really big deal. It means Philadelphia will have about 9,000 positions to fill. It also means the city’s current batch of employees isn’t too reflective of the much-discussed youthful boom Philadelphia is currently experiencing. And Negrin wants to solve those problems by encouraging the young people reinvigorating Philadelphia to work for the city.

To try and make it happen, his office established the group that met for the first time two weeks ago, and it has been named the Millennial Recruitment Advisory Board. The board will advise the city on how to make local government jobs more appealing and communicate with young Philadelphians about why particular jobs might be a good fit and how they can get them.

“We should have our millennials reaching out to other millennials,” Negrin tells Billy Penn. “And then every now and then an old guy like me will show up and say good things.”

The idea came from Negrin and Caroline Olson, deputy managing director of organizational development and talent management. Olson didn’t want to give the full list of people on the committee until the board is completely established. She intends to add another two people in the near future. The board will likely meet once a month and be active in the community in an unofficial capacity. Philadelphia chief open data officer Tim Wisniewski, former Tony Williams for Mayor political staffer Bryan E. K. Leib and Penn J.D./MBA candidate and Young Involved Philadelphia board member Ben Stango were three of the millennials present at the first meeting.  

During that meeting, Stango says the group mainly brainstormed, discussing why government jobs aren’t always appealing, whether it’s because people have no idea how to secure such a job or because they don’t want one.

“It’s demystifying and dispelling preconceived notions of, ‘are we just going to be bunch of Jerrys from Parks an Rec?’” says Stango, who also made the list of Billy Penn’s “Who’s Next: Politics.” “I think a lot of people have that image that government is a bureaucracy.”

Another goal is figuring out which jobs will be available, and how many will be civil service vs. non-civil service. Once that’s figured out, the committee wants to prepare departments and jobs to be better tailored for young employees.

How exactly will they make these things happen? It doesn’t have set strategies yet. There’s only been one meeting.

But Stango described the board as a “Young Friends” type of organization that would act on behalf of the city to cultivate a youthful following the same way similar groups do for Philadelphia cultural institutions like the Art Museum. Negrin says the board might help the city partner with young professional organizations to host events and enact social media and video campaigns. Another possibility, Negrin says, would be forming relationships with nonprofits so that when positions open up, they’ll have inroads with organizations that could provide young, talented individuals. 

In the early stages of the board, there’s also the matter of crafting a strategy that will make it attractive and useful for the administration of the next mayor in 2015. 

Negrin acknowledged the number of millennials working for Philadelphia isn’t large enough. A few millennials hold prominent positions, such as Wisniewski, but the city primarily has 20-somethings as interns or fellows, not the full-time jobs it will need to fill.

Negrin realizes the challenge ahead. The city can’t pay nearly as much as a major private company. He says by offering positions in departments like Sustainability, Innovation &Technology and in the community the city can try convince millennials to accept a pay cut — even it’s just for a few years — to take a job that can directly shape Philadelphia.

“Your age doesn’t necessarily matter, your talent does,” he says. “If we can get that message out, I think people would love to work for a great city during a critical time and really change our workforce.”

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