Attracting Young Talent a Challenge, Says New SPD Commander

Published Sept. 23, 2016

San Francisco— The new commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division, headquartered in a city overflowing with millennials, has acknowledged the Corps needs to find new ways of attracting young people to the federal workforce. 

Col. Pete Helmlinger told San Francisco District employees during a get-acquainted town hall meeting Sept. 21 attracting younger talent remains a problem across the Corps.  That’s particularly true in the Bay Area with its insatiable demand to fill engineering jobs at big tech companies where starting salaries for engineering jobs -- even for those fresh out of college -- can be in the six figures.    Coupled with a federal hiring process that can take weeks to lead to a job offer, the government can be hard-pressed to fill key positions.   

“We specifically go out and target young engineers.  We are disadvantaged in that many other corporations that attend job fairs at universities can hire on the spot.”

It’s a situation, he said, that the Corps needs to address especially if it’s going to be able to replace an aging workforce and attract talented millennials, usually those defined as having been born after 1982. 

“This is a great opportunity as well as a threat,’ he said.  “We’ve got to re-energize and refresh our workforce.  I’m open to suggestions on how to do this.”

Just connecting with millennials can be a challenge, Helmlinger admits. He assumed command of the South Pacific Division in August.  After his last assignment in the buttoned-up, official culture of Washington, D.C., he may have experienced what passes as a form of millennial-infused, Bay Area culture shock.

“I ponder how to connect with a guy who is on his phone who doesn’t even notice the guy in the uniform in the back of the elevator.”  

One possible strategy for attracting millennials to the federal work force, he said, is appealing to their sense of patriotism.  “I think one of the unique things about government service is that you’re serving a higher cause.”