Back to School: Rethinking Federal Recruiting on College Campuses

Article excerpt

Any effort to strengthen our federal civil service must tap into the energy, creativity, and idealism of young Americans. Twenty-somethings have proven their potential by driving the record economic expansion that began in the early 1990s. The companies that define the twenty-first century economy--Microsoft, Google, eBay Yahoo--all were founded by people in their twenties. In contrast, young people have become an endangered species in our federal workforce: only 3 percent of it is under age 25. To fulfill the promise of American democracy, we need to reestablish the federal government as an employer of choice for our country's young people.

In 2002, the Partnership for Public Service and U.S. Office of Personnel Management established the Call to Serve program to bring a more collaborative approach to addressing the talent needs of our federal government at the college level. The Call to Serve network comprises more than 570 colleges and universities, sixty-two federal agencies, and several higher education associations. Together, these entities are helping disseminate information on federal service by bringing dynamic federal workers to campuses to talk with students about public service, offering user-friendly materials to students about job opportunities in government, and performing other recruitment activities.

To deepen our understanding of cost-effective and sustainable ways to promote government service on college campuses, the Partnership spearheaded the Call to Serve recruitment initiative. This article outlines some of the first findings from the initiative and explains why they matter and how they can be put to use.

The Challenge

In 1988, a commission headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker reported that our federal civil service was facing a "silent crisis." This silent crisis has grown louder for a variety of reasons.

Impending Retirements

Among all full-time permanent employees in the federal workforce, 58 percent of supervisory and 42 percent of nonsupervisory workers will be eligible to retire by the end of fiscal year 2010. Simply put, with the impending retirement of the baby boomers, our federal government is facing an unprecedented loss of experience and expertise.

Talent Gaps

Numerous agencies, including those with national security and emergency management missions, struggle to deliver quality services and retain the public trust due to a poor fit between organizational needs and their human capital resources.


Federal agencies are facing an uphill battle in efforts to hire the right people with the right skills and experience. Although students are very public service oriented, many do not perceive working for the federal government as "public service." The lure of the nonprofit sector is strong for those with altruistic objectives. Also, many young people do not believe that federal salaries are competitive with those the private sector offers.

Call to Serve Recruitment Initiative

How do we address our federal government's human capital challenges and reestablish Uncle Sam as an employer of choice for America's young people?

In an effort to answer this important question, in July 2005 the Partnership for Public Service launched the Call to Serve recruitment initiative, a first-of-its-kind effort at six pilot universities to find the best ways to inspire young people to enter federal service. The pilot universities are Clark Atlanta University, The George Washington University, Louisiana State University, Ohio State University, Stanford University, and the University of New Mexico.

The May 2006 report, Back to School: Rethinking Federal Recruiting on College Campuses, documented a survey in late 2005 of more than 3,200 juniors, seniors, and graduate students from the six pilot universities, who responded to a Web-based questionnaire, and about forty students from each school (except Stanford), who participated in an online chat with interviewers to further explore their thoughts about federal public service jobs and careers. …