Staff layoffs and cuts to training funds implemented by some local governments during the recession may have a short-term gain. However, they compound the long-term problem of finding candidates to fill highly technical and upper management positions left vacant by retiring baby boomers.

In January, the Washington-based Center for State and Local Government Excellence (CSLGE) released the results of an online survey that found that many local and state government human resources officials recently had experienced difficulty in filling certain positions, primarily in engineering, skilled trades, information technology, health care, finance, law enforcement and top management. Some of those positions always have been hard to fill because of competition from the private sector, says CSLGE Executive Director Beth Kellar, but some are more difficult now because of staffing cuts that have left many entry-level professional jobs unfilled. That reduces the number of candidates for middle management or senior management jobs, she says.

To fill the empty positions, local governments must accelerate the development of employees already in the pipeline for upper management positions, and they must attract more young people to entry-level professional positions in government, says Frank Benest, senior advisor for the Washington-based International City/County Management Association's Next Generation Initiative.

To ensure that employees in the pipeline have the leadership skills to move into top management, Benest suggests governments provide a series of "job-stretching" experiences coupled with coaching. To attract young people, governments must convince them that they can make a difference in their communities through government work, Benest says. "We have to make the case that, if they join the government, they can achieve [their] wonderful values," he says.

Cities also should think twice about some recession-time decisions, Kellar says. "When you're in a survival mode, it can be very difficult to take the long view," she says. "[But,] if we're not attentive to long-term trends, we're not going to be able to provide that safety net that people expect."

Going After the Youth

An ICMA California coaching program sends city and county managers to college campuses to give presentations promoting local government careers.

ICMA also encourages its members to sponsor internships for college students, and it promotes management fellowships for graduates who studied public administration or urban planning. The graduates serve with a local government for a year, after which they may become full-time employees.

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