What role are millennials playing in the Intelligence Community workforce today, and what role will they play in the future? Those were among the questions discussed during a recent panel hosted by the Intelligence and National Security Alliance. In an era of fiscal cliffs and budget cuts, attracting and retaining the best talent continues to be a challenge. The IC advantage in hiring has come under pressure, and the impatience of today’s millennial workforce adds to that hiring challenge.

What’s a millennial?

Although there are many definitions of a millennial, INSA describes them as those who were 6 to 21 years of age on September 11, 2001. Many of the panel members at the INSA event applauded millennials as the bright minds who leverage technology to gain more opportunity in the workplace.  By using social media and other technologies, these young people bring accessibility to the workforce that may not have been available in previous generations.

However, with great opportunity for advancement also comes a challenge in the work environment.  A generational rift can be expected in any workplace, but there are specific character traits that make millennials unique in today’s workforce. One of the most common – lack of patience.

Rich Girven, the associate director of the Intelligence Policy Center at the RAND Corporation and a self-professed “gamer”, described millennials as a group that sought instant gratification, somewhat like what you would expect in a video game.  Girven emphasized that we are now at a mid-millennial migration, with 75 percent of the workforce expected to be millennials by 2025.  Girven calculated that the last millennial would likely retire around 2080 – but their timeline between entering federal government and what they expect to achieve by retirement is vastly different.  Within the GS pay scale system, baby boomers that have been in the workforce nearly 25 years are likely to expect a GS-15 position.  Girven commented that millennials expect to make this same position within half that time, thus emphasizing the instant gratification that they seek.

impatient with promotions = speedy with information

Patience may be a virtue millennials struggle to embrace, but one thing that panelists all agreed with was that this seemingly impatient generation has adopted a speed of information that no other generation has known.  With technology and social media advancing at a pace unknown before, it’s no doubt that in a technology-filled workforce like intelligence, the “information seeker” now becomes the “information receiver”.  Millennials expect the delivery of information instead of seeking out the answers.  A great example of this is news.  The days of reading news in a paper copy are long-gone, but so are the days of seeking out news online.  Thanks to Google alerts, Reddit and other news aggregating sites, there is no need to search for the latest headlines.  They are provided in many different ways with little to no effort involved in a search.  The efficiencies millennials apply to how they follow the news is often also followed in their workplace processes.

Although use of technology sets millennials apart from other generations, it can also cause some issues in the intelligence career field.  Many millennials have never known a time without social media, most definitely not in their adult life. For a generation who puts their whole life online, they are often still weary of giving their information to outside entities, especially the government.  This can definitely pose a problem in the national intelligence field.  How can defense employers reach out to millennials while ensuring protection of their information?  One way discussed on the INSA panel was the transparency of information.  Keeping your online “self” consistent with your offline “self” can limit much of the risk associated with security clearance rejection.

millennials and the ic meeting in the middle

Millennials continue to struggle with the balance between their online persona and their real-life goals to succeed within the intelligence community.  As more of this generation enters the workforce, offering unique skills and technological expertise, the employee is not the only one that needs to adapt to the situation.  The employer, or in this case intelligence community, also needs to embrace new ways of communicating, especially via social media.  If they don’t adapt, they could be missing out on some of their best opportunities to secure the best candidate for employment.

Related News

Erika Wonn is a communications analyst and proud veteran in Washington, DC.