Given the post-pandemic environmentcybersecurity, workforce changes, and the ongoing, long-term push to make public agencies more digital, it would seem that suppliers, buyers, and users of government technology already have enough on their plates.
Now comes the rise of Gen Z.
These consumers, professionals, and voters are still very young, inexperienced, and lacking dominant power in all areas except perhaps pop culture. But evidence is emerging that their voices are beginning to be heard within the government tech industry — and that their preferences will soon help influence how state and local governments deploy technology.
It is not to preempt events – the American Congress has just obtained its first member of Generation Zand they make up no more than 13% of the U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — but that’s not stopping some government tech vendors from promoting their ability to listen to Gen Z and plan accordingly.
“A generational shift is happening and there’s no stopping it,” Nick Stevens, senior director of product management at Active networkwhich sells recreation management software and other software to public agencies, said Government technology.
The company has some 1,700 local government customers, he said. Part of the reason he’s probing Gen Z, he acknowledged, is to expand company awareness and maybe even win more customers beyond parks and recreation spaces. .
Even so, its tales from the trenches offer reasons why government tech vendors should at least increase their interest in the rising young generation – a generation that has known nothing but digital life. And preparations for the rise of Gen Z also underscore the generational complexities inherent in government technology.
“We’re seeing this generation more and more at the table at product demonstrations and presentations,” Stevens said. “We see them more and more in the room. We see them moving into roles faster than they would five to ten years ago. »
He attributes this not only to retirements creating room for younger employees, but also to the private sector and its larger paychecks attracting tech experts from public agencies, creating even more space for Gen Z workers with a civic and tech mindset.
It can be difficult to understand how quickly the state and local government tech workforce is getting younger and the direct or indirect influence of Gen Z right now. But some recent data helps illustrate the problem.
An analysis of 2021 retirement data for workers in the state of Wisconsin – the state claims it has the 13th largest retirement system in the United States – found that the government workforce has become considerably younger in recent years. years, which would seem to bolster Stevens’ arguments about Gen Z.
The average age of active members of Wisconsin’s retirement system — the pension plan for state, public school and some local government employees — has fallen to 44.6, the youngest average age since 2003. In 2010, the average age peaked at 46 years. Old. COVID-era departures, competition from the private sector, job cuts and other factors have contributed to this shift, the report says.
Additionally, the average worker in the system has 11.1 years of service in 2021, which is the least experience since 2001, and down from the peak of 12.1 years in 2010.
“Although in a modest sense, this change is remarkable because it is spread across more than 200,000 state and local workers,” the report said.
Meanwhile, at the federal level – an imperfect but still useful way to measure broad trends in government employment – recent reports indicate that young workers leave their jobs at a higher rate than their older colleagues. About 8.1% of the federal workforce is under 30, according to another analysis. This compares to 23 percent in the private sector.
GEN Z AND GOVERNMENT
Part of the problem may not just be Gen Z finishing college and graduate school or starting their careers, it’s that they don’t trust the government.
A Eldeman Poll end of 2021 revealed that 47% of Gen Zers trust government leaders. This is a lower level of trust than that expressed towards doctors, scientists, educators, CEOs and celebrities. It’s no exaggeration to see that public agencies and government technology providers will need to find ways to counter such attitudes when recruiting and retaining talent among the younger professional class.
The generation’s relatively heavy focus on things like mobile payments and sustainable commerce – traits recently documented through surveys retail technology companies and others – could certainly impact their expectations of the public sector.
These are part of the Gen Z proposition that is attracting the attention of government tech executives such as Stevens. These young citizens — and, by extension, young employees of public agencies — want to pay property taxes through a mobile app, not by check or by visiting a government office, for example. They don’t want to go to city hall to deal with a parking ticket.
Gen Z also tends to have different ideas on how work should work than their older counterparts. From the perspective of a government technology provider such as Stevens, this means offering hybrid ways of working for government employees, along with the necessary back-end support technology – a challenge for public agencies, perhaps. but an opportunity for suppliers and young technology professionals.
Also, when it comes to product demonstrations and sales pitches from government tech vendors, Gen Zers who could now sit across that conference table — and who will in the coming years – require an approach likely to differ from their older counterparts.
“What you have to put in front of them to get their attention is quite different from what you have to put in front of someone who grew up on Instagram and TikTok,” he said.
GOV TECH GENERATIONAL CHALLENGES
None of this, of course, means that government technology and public agencies should or can ignore millennials, Gen Xers and baby boomers when it comes to new services and tools for the government. In fact, it would be nearly impossible — or politically impractical — given the government’s burden of serving all demographics.
Josh Rogers, Senior Vice President of Capital Advantagejokes that he’s “not much of a Gen Z whisperer” before offering a broader view of the larger issues at play even as a new generation prepares to assume more influence and power. power in public affairs, including government technology.
“Do you need a baby boomer call center when millennials/Gen Z prefer to deal with a chatbot rather than a live person on the phone?” he wrote in an email interview with Government technology. “Do we need to send physical documents by mail or are the PDFs or digital wallets in the apps sufficient to provide documentation? How do you handle security issues including hacking and/or identity theft?I don’t think there is a right answer.I think every case is unique.
When it comes to Gen Z specifically, this generation has yet to prove they can take on more government tech responsibilities. For example, Gen Z only started voting in the past two presidential election cycles, and those are the voters that buyers of government tech ultimately cater to, he said.
While Gen Z is certainly joining the workforce — and in the relatively chaotic post-pandemic era — Rogers comes across as more cautious than Stevens. He argues that it takes more time and experience before Gen Z really makes their presence known, especially given how the industry works.
“I think we’re going to start to see more government tech products serving Gen Z,” Rogers said. “But in government tech, the sales cycles are long, and I don’t think we’ll start to see these differentiated products take off until we start to see more Gen Z people gain influence in places of government work.”