Government needs to rethink how to recruit young people

According to a recent article in the Ottawa Citizen Canada’s youth are as interested in saving the world and serving the “public interest” as any generation before them, but they don’t connect with a slow, stodgy federal government symbolized by a “bunch of old, grey-haired white guys,”

Max Valiquette, president of the Toronto-based research and marketing firm Youthography, told a packed hall of senior federal executives recently the government is so “behind the eight ball” in its bid to attract youth that it’s time the public service, not the government, started selling “what you do, not what you are.”

“It’s not just about the brand of the federal government, it’s about the idea of public service,” he told several hundred executives at the APEX annual conference in Ottawa . “NGOs are more popular than ever before. More young people are going abroad to Africa or whatever … to serve what they view as the public trust. Why can’t this happen with CIDA or DFAIT?”

He states that they have many strikes against it. It’s a big, slow, rules-bound hierarchy, and it’s not going to attract anyone with the pay. Young people don’t connect to government and can’t fathom many departments would actually forbid employees from using Facebook, “the most important networking technology in their lives” at work. They expect to have control over their lives, rather than work under the thumb of top-down government.

As some one who has been teaching 3rd and 4th year university business students for close to 20 years  and have spent over 25 years marketing to youth , I feel that the actions taken on forbidding using social media is the dumbest move I have seen  in 25 years. While private sector corporations encourage their staff to be on-line and use social media the government bans them. How out of touch can you be? As I mentioned in previous blogs  government are slow to innovate in the technology area which discourages from young bright lights at university and colleges not joining the public service. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard  students tell me how backward government is in adopting technology to work processes. The refrain I constantly hear is that they are in “the stone ages”. Why would a smart young university student want to join an antiquated organization who not only uses social media but bans their staff from using it. What impact do you think that this has on branding the federal government who are desperately trying to recruit young blood.

For example the government just recruited 3000 students , I would love to see research done on how many stay after 5 years and if they do how do they feel about working in government.

The recruitment of young people is a key priority of the federal government as part of its “public service renewal strategy.” Mr. Valiquette argued that youth need to connect with the government like they do any brand, but they don’t see themselves in the face of politics dominated by middle-aged men. Valiquette  has to work on its brand and target youth much earlier so they will be attracted to work in the government.

According to Valiquette, today’s youth are growing up faster, but taking longer to settle into adulthood. They live at home longer, stay in school longer and start families later. They value relationships, communication, information, diversity and empowerment, and technology knits it all together for them. With the Internet and digital technology, today’s youth have created seismic changes in how society creates, consumes and manages culture and communications, from Google to Napster, MySpace and Facebook … all created by 20-somethings.

This control of content and culture means young people challenge the top-down hierarchies such as government, education and even religion, Mr. Valiquette said. He argued government has to change its “master brand.” Young people won’t respond to a campaign that sounds like a government advertisement, but will respond to a campaign that shows what it does.

I feel that if the government wants to recruit young people they should use the media of young people but how could they when they have no credibility in using the media because they ban its use in government.

Valiquette states the government should do a survey of its young workers, past and present, and new hires to find out what works and what doesn’t. He argued the government should be more “flexible,” from work policies and dress to language requirements. He warned that the government’s bilingualism policy was deterring many young people. (clearly this policy has to be updated… if anyone has noticed the population of Canada has changed significantly in the past decade)

“Young people have redefined the music store, the search tool, and the social network. They had the Walkman, the television and the credit card redefined for them because they wanted it. So what’s next for the public service? Will it change or will it be changed?” Mr. Valiquette said.

I can tell Max that the government may change as they will not have choice but that will only happen if their is some leadership in the federal government. It needs to start from the top and work its way down the system

Here are a few things government can do if they want to be in touch with young people

1.Instead of banning social media, encourage its use especially when communicating with youth. Lose the print material and the static and bureaucratic web sites. To find out how best use social media in marketing go to

Also check out my colleague Mike Kujawski”s  blog

2. Stop those useless dog and pony shows/displays that government uses to encourage students to join the government… they are hokey and the people who tend to do these in my experience do more harm than good as they can rarely questions students ask. They are loaded with unwanted print material ( students want their info on-line) Better to use social media marketing techniques.

3. When students send an application to join the public service their application goes into a ” black hole” and the vast majority never hear anything. Surely we an improve the administration of these applications.


What do you think. feel free to comment on my blog.  


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One Reply to “Government needs to rethink how to recruit young people”

  1. While I agree that fundamental change is necessary or we will lose employees (across all age ranges), I have to take issue with the point that leadership from the top will be necessary before change will happen.

    As a large organization, the PS will always need strong leadership from the top – and that will be necessary to break down silos and prompt changes in process and priorities.

    We’ll find, however, that young employees will find hacks and workarounds to experiment with new technologies.

    They will start, for all intents and purposes, reshaping the system from within.

    If we’re depending upon waterfall communications to signal that the vast bureaucracy must undertake fundamental change, then the traditionalists, the risk-averse and the territorial will cripple change.

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