How to Recruit the Next Generation of Parks and Rec Leaders

Written by Kathryn Boutwell

Hire and retain Millennial and Gen Z talent, starting now.
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Parks and recreation departments have been facing a staffing paradigm shift for the past several years. With tenured baby boomers retiring and continued pressures to compete with the private sector for talent, municipal leaders have had to shift their hiring tactics to make their open positions appealing to a generation of workers who have extremely different employment priorities than their generational predecessors. Where baby boomers are categorically disciplined, team-oriented, mentally focused, and goal-oriented, Millennials tend to challenge the hierarchy of the status-quo, desire continued education enablement, and expect modern, intuitive technology to do their job.

As if these expectations from prospective hires were not enough for parks and rec leaders to adapt to, add to the mosaic of the future of municipal workforce management a global pandemic that is changing expectations for the amount of time workers expect to spend in an office compared to their home office, and hiring managers are at a pivotal inflection point.

How can they attract Millennial and Gen Z talent with expectations for workplace flexibility, value-based assignments, and modern technology—and ensure the reality of their office culture lives up to the expectations?

Offer Diverse Learning and Growing Opportunities

Where Boomers were often satisfied with learning their job role and performing it to a high-level day after day, younger generations seek jobs with upward mobility capabilities and where continual learning is encouraged and enabled. Work with your human resources department to offer ongoing educational development opportunities to younger hires and everyone in your department.

Invest in the Kinds of Tech that Rival the Private Sector

Younger generations have had access to the Internet and a smartphone nearly their entire lives. A job that requires them to collect paper registration forms or hand-deliver activity and course catalogs to administrative offices won’t appeal to a prospective hire who spends their day learning about new brands and opportunities on Instagram and TikTok. If your administration isn’t already doing so in response to COVID-19’s social distancing requirements, implement a cloud-based recreation management system that will enable staff to do their job digitally and remotely, which leads us to number three.

Consider Allowing Permanent Remote Work

While parks landscaping crews and camp counselors need to be out in the field, COVID-19 has proved that many administrative positions can be facilitated remotely with the right systems and infrastructure. Office workers across industries who had to shift to telework rapidly have settled into the convenience of a lifestyle with no commute, no shoes, and full days spent with their favorite furry companions. When asked if they want to return to their offices full time when we beat COVID-19, 83 percent of workers would like to continue working from home at least one day per week. While private sector entities have traditionally offered more flexible telework options, municipalities that want to stay competitive need to rethink their remote job offerings.

Showcase How Their Work Will Make a Difference in their Community

Younger generations, particularly Gen Z, want a job that will give their life meaning and purpose. This desire opens a valuable opportunity for public sector hiring managers. As part of your Gen Z recruitment efforts, reinforce in job descriptions, interviews, and your online presence how vital parks and rec staff are to facilitating healthy and engaged communities. When Gen Z-ers feel that they are making a difference, they will be more likely to stay and grow with an organization or administration, as 65 percent of Gen Z-ers list their employment as a key part of their identity.

Future-Proofing Your Hiring Strategy

The world and every community and hiring entity in it might be rapidly reacting to the safety needs of COVID-19; the entities that will sustain profitable and successful operations long-term are the ones that are looking not just to tomorrow, but a year and five years from now. Take what you’re learning from how your employees are reacting, profiting, and struggling during the pandemic and use it to future-proof your hiring and retention strategy. By maintaining an open dialogue with your staff, you can gain even better insights and co-create your ongoing talent recruitment and retention strategy.