Career Choice in Canadian Public Service: An Exploration of Fit with the Millennial Generation

By Ng, Eddy S. W.; Gossett, Charles W. | Public Personnel Management, September 2013 | Go to article overview

Career Choice in Canadian Public Service: An Exploration of Fit with the Millennial Generation


Ng, Eddy S. W., Gossett, Charles W., Public Personnel Management


Introduction

One of the most pressing and significant challenges facing Canada involves the labor force and its aging population (Burke & Ng, 2006). The baby boomer generation currently in the workforce is reaching retirement age and leaving the labor market in large numbers. The proportion of working age population (15 years and older) in relation to the total population is projected to fall over the next 20 years, from approximately 70% in 2006 to about 62% by 2031 (Statistics Canada, 2007). Canada's public service, much like its private sector counterpart, is facing the prospect of a massive shortage of knowledge and managerial workers (Templer & Armstrong-Stassen, 2005). To this end, the federal government has responded with an aggressive immigration policy aimed at providing skilled workers to the Canadian economy. The result is an increasingly diverse workforce in terms of race and ethnicity, requiring employer efforts to manage diversity (Benhamadi, 2003). Complementing this trend, young workers (Generation Y or Millennials) are also entering the workforce for the first time, bringing with them unique values and expectations that employers have not had experience hiring and managing. Given the tightening labor market and the demand for skills, it will be the Millennials who will be selecting which organizations they want to work for. Therefore, the challenge of attracting a new generation of workers into the public service is an important one. We draw on two strains of research in an effort to understand the challenges Canadian public sector employers may face in attracting the next generation of civil servants. First, we use Cable and Turban's (2001) employer knowledge framework to explore how the millennial generation, presently attending universities, make career choices and what they find attractive about the employer characteristics and job attributes in the public and private sectors. Given the stereotypes that persist among the Millennials, we also explore the extent to which a career choice in public service may fit with their work values, career goals, and work/life choices. Second, we turn to the literature on public service motivation, particularly the work by Perry and Wise (1990) and Vandenabeele (2008). Here we assess whether differences, if any, between students who indicate a preference for government employers rather than private sector employers are related to elements these authors have identified as characteristic of the "public service motivation" construct.

Millennials

In 1996, David Foot used the term Baby Boom Echo to describe a cohort of children born between 1980 and 1995. These are the children of the boomers, and there are 6.9 million of them in Canada (Foot & Stoffman, 1998). This cohort has grown up in an era characterized by globalization, rapid technological advancement, and increasing diversity (Burke & Ng, 2006). They also exhibit values, traits, and behaviors that are very different from those of previous generations (Loughlin & Barling, 2001; Smola & Sutton, 2002). Given their characteristics and the events that define their lives, various authors have labeled them as Generation Y, Millennials, Nexters, and the Nexus Generation (Barnard, Cosgrove, & Welsh, 1998; Burke & Ng, 2006; Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak, 2000). In this study, we will use the term Millennials in keeping with popular press.

A review of the current literature on the Millennials indicates that they have been raised with increased self-esteem, narcissism, and a sense of entitlement (Twenge & Campbell, 2008; 200 I). Stuart and Lyons (2008) noted that Millennials "believe they possess the talent and the intellect to achieve their goals, and are acutely focused on their own success." Millennials feel empowered to do anything they want, and they have great expectations for fulfillment and meaning in their work (Twenge & Campbell, 2008). Millennials are also constantly looking for ways to lead more purposeful and interesting lives, and seek out intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. …

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