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Research Questions

  1. What does Southern California's public-sector workforce look like in terms of demographics, income, and occupations?
  2. What facilitators and barriers are there to recruiting and hiring talented and underrepresented individuals into public-sector careers?
  3. What strategies can SoCal G2U, public-sector agencies, and colleges and universities implement to increase the hiring and retention of talented and underrepresented employees into the public sector?

Although there is great interest in attracting talented and underrepresented individuals into public-sector careers, there is also concern that graduates of colleges and universities may not be considering the public sector and that government agencies are not doing all they could to attract the next generation of workers. This report seeks to help bridge these gaps by identifying the most promising strategies that public-sector agencies, colleges and universities, and community organizations can pursue to increase the flow of talented and underrepresented workers into public-sector careers.

This report examines one regional public-sector workforce, that of Southern California, but many of the issues and strategies that the authors identify are broadly applicable to other regions. These strategies focus on two fundamental goals — increasing underrepresented students' awareness of rewarding opportunities in the public sector and making public-sector organizations more diverse — that should reinforce each other.

Key Findings

There are a variety of facilitators and barriers to attracting high-quality diverse talent to the public sector

  • College and university students have low awareness of the range of opportunities available in the public sector.
  • Many students view public-sector work as a way to improve their communities, but they also tend to have a variety of negative perceptions about public-sector work.
  • Job-seekers place a high value on workforce diversity. The Southern California public-sector workforce reflects the racial and ethnic composition of the local population in a general way, but Hispanic and Black workers in the sector are much less represented in the highest earnings group.
  • Internships often lead to applicants being more competitive for employment, but there is a perception that public-sector internship opportunities are not widely and equitably publicized to potential audiences, thus limiting the diversity of the applicant pool.
  • Agencies, colleges, and students all rely on informal connections and personal networks for recruiting, but informal networks tend to connect people of similar characteristics and exclude people from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds from opportunities.
  • Government hiring processes are often very lengthy and complicated, which may limit the pool of talented and diverse applicants with the knowledge, patience, and resources to persist through these processes.

Recommendations

  • Consistently articulate leadership commitment to increasing recruitment of talented and underrepresented individuals into the public sector.
  • Communicate the benefits of public-sector careers: Emphasize the public sector's purpose-driven mission, employee benefits, and job stability, and publicize improvements.
  • Improve the awareness and sharing of job and internship opportunities, including by making job titles and descriptions clearer and helping students navigate the hiring process.
  • Foster preparation for career entry and retention by promoting funded internships and mentoring and professional development programs.
  • Institutionalize connections between government and higher education.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was supported by the Volcker Alliance and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) and was conducted by RAND Education and Labor.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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