Government Employment as a Career Path?

The U.S. Capitol building.Every time you turn on the TV news it seems as though the government is in chaos.  Fighting between and within political parties.  Campaign mudslinging.  Scandals involving leaders and staffers at all levels.  Wow! No wonder the thought of working for the government probably doesn’t enter most individual’s minds when they consider career options!

That’s too bad.  Having worked a few years in government myself, I know there are many great opportunities in almost every career field imaginable.  Also, working as a “civil servant” can be a personally rewarding and fulfilling experience.  It provides an important way to honorably serve your local city, county, state, or even the nation.  True, government pay scales may not always equal those found in the private sector.  However, they’re not too shabby either, especially if you advance to a senior level or management position.

Some people also feel government work may provide more stable employment than many non-government jobs.  I believe this is true if you are not in a temporary, grant-funded position. In a private sector company, employment levels may shrink or grow suddenly.  This might occur simply because of last quarter’s sales figures or the gain or loss of an important contract.  Thus, for many jobs, government work is perhaps more stable because “sales” and “profits” are non-issues.  Plus, the government needs workers in order to provide essential services and perform tasks mandated by law.

Who Does the Government Hire?

If you think the government doesn’t hire people in your trade or profession, think again.  You might not even realize that government agencies hire doctors, dentists, lawyers, engineers, accountants, and nurses. Also, plumbers, electricians, welders, mechanics, teachers, computer programmers, purchasing agents, writers, communications specialists, analysts, and photographers.  Don’t forget chemists, artists, social workers, law enforcement officers, and that just scratches the surface.  I have many more examples, but there are simply too many to list here!

Could you really get a job with the government?  It could turn out that you may have a bit of an “in” when it comes to landing a government job.  For example, the Federal Government has programs which assist or provide a hiring preference for certain groups.  Such groups include veterans, military spouses, individuals with disabilities, Native Americans, and others.  Check out usajobs.gov for a wealth of information about finding and applying for positions with the United States government.  Some state and local governmental entities also have similar programs for which you may qualify.

In addition to Federal jobs, don’t forget your local city, county, and state governments also need qualified people!  Be sure to check their websites for job openings and instructions on how to apply for open positions.

Government and Your Career Path

From a career path perspective, government employment can work for you in two ways.  If you go into government first, it might help open the door for private sector employment later on.  This is especially true if you are in a field where having been a “government insider” with knowledge of how government operates is valued.  Your government experience could give you an advantage over other applicants who do not have such valuable insight.  For example, suppose your new employer is considering selling products or services to the government.  The complex governmental purchasing process, how bids are awarded, which forms need to be submitted, etc. are all things you likely know well. Additionally, you probably know exactly who to contact, in which agency, to get results.  To outsiders, the government can appear as a hopelessly confusing labyrinth of bureaucracies.

On the flip side, suppose you have private sector employment experience first and wish to later move into government employment.   You may be an attractive candidate to agencies wishing to bring new knowledge and experience into their organizations.  They are often interested in adapting and implementing many of the best practices found in the private sector.  This makes your skills and experience all the more desirable.

The Government Workplace

Is government employment all roses and the grass considerably greener?  Probably no, but in reality, it depends.  Usually involves for whom you work and the type of work you do.  Just like private sector companies, government agencies each have different cultures and levels of employee satisfaction.

I have talked to many individuals who switched their employment between various state agencies.  They all tell me the same thing: every agency has its own unique personality, culture, and atmosphere.  Even within the same state, some individual agencies are considered to be wonderful employers; others, not so much.

It is true “politics” impacts the government work environment.  However, I’m not referring to your personal political beliefs or party affiliation.  I’m talking about politics as it relates to legislative decisions and approval/non-approval of budget bills, etc. Depending on who gets elected, drastic changes in focus and direction may occur. However, as you know, politics are not limited to government and are commonplace in the private sector as well!

Government agencies (like some private sector companies) tend to be “by the book” type employers.  So, expect lots of rules, regulations, procedures, and numbered forms to fill out.  But, that’s not necessarily all bad. Just as in sports, there are rules which the players must follow in order to win. Workers who run into problems are often those who are either unable or unwilling to learn and follow the rules.  If you learn the rules well, and know how to interpret and apply them skillfully, you might do great!  Not bad, if you don’t mind such structure.  In fact, some people really do like the well-defined structure such a workplace provides.

The Outlook for Government Employment

First, the bad news.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a decrease in Federal employment for the period 2012 to 2022.  This decrease is due to increased pressure to reduce spending and budget deficits. The sector is projected to lose 407,500 jobs overall, representing a decrease of 1.6% per year.  At first, this may sound discouraging, but let’s put it in perspective.  The BLS states that more than 40% of these expected job losses are in the Postal Service (USPS) alone.  Of course, this probably does not come as a big surprise to you.  Consider, after all, that more and more people now pay bills online.  Think about the number of documents sent electronically.  These approaches all bypass the services offered by the USPS.

Now the good news.  The BLS projects an increase in the state and local government sector by 929,000 jobs, to just over 20 million by 2022.  This increase is more than two-and-a-half times the increase seen in the recent past from 2002 to 2012. The projected job growth in this job sector is driven by increases in both state and local educational services.  In fact, almost half of the growth comes from the local government educational services industry.

I believe job sectors not expecting new growth will still experience an increase in job openings. Why? Because baby boomers are retiring and will continue to rapidly exit the workplace. According to the Washington Post, there is growing concern about the “brain drain” such impending departures will cause.  The 82,000-plus federal employees who retired in 2013 alone took 2 million years of experience with them!

Clearly, in order to carry on, government agencies need to pass the torch to someone in the next generation.  That someone could just be you!

 

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Featured image courtesy of kidTruant – flickr.

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