What About Government Employment as a Career Path?

The U.S. Capitol building.

Have you ever thought about government employment as a career path? I suppose unless the IRS or FBI is chasing you down you may not regularly think about government agencies. To the average person, the federal, state, and local governments probably appear to simply operate in the background. Their services are pretty much taken for granted. Most people likely don’t even think about them on a daily basis. So, it should not come as a big surprise that government employment as a career path is often overlooked. Perhaps simply out of sight, out of mind. Besides, every time you watch the news on TV or online, 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 may not seem appealing!

That’s too bad.  Having worked in government a few years, I know it offers great opportunities in almost every career field.  Plus, working as a “civil servant” can be a personally rewarding and fulfilling experience.  You can serve your city, county, state, or even the federal government in important ways, all while getting paid.  It’s true; government pay scales are often not as lucrative as those found in the private sector.  However, they’re not too shabby either, especially if you advance to a senior level or management position.

More Stable Work?

Some people feel government work may be more stable than other types of jobs.  As long as you are not in a temporary or grant-funded position, this is probably true.  Jobs in the private sector may come or go suddenly for many reasons. For example, a drop in last quarter’s sales figures might result in cutbacks. A sudden decline in profits might result in closing entire factories or branch offices. Thus, for many types of jobs, government work is perhaps more stable because “sales” and “profits” are non-issues.  Also, government entities must provide certain essential services and perform many tasks which are mandated by law. Thus, the function of government must continue regardless of the current business economic climate.

What Types of Workers Are Hired by the Government?

If you think the government doesn’t hire people in your trade or profession, think again.  You might not even realize government agencies hire nurses, teachers, computer programmers, engineers, plumbers, electricians, welders, and mechanics. Also, purchasing agents, writers, communications specialists, analysts, and photographers. Don’t forget accountants, chemists, artists, social workers, and law enforcement officers. Even doctors, dentists, and lawyers are needed. And those lists just scratch the surface! I could go on and on.

Could I Really Get a Job?

Sure. In fact, depending on your background and situation, you might have an advantage 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 might include veterans, military spouses, disabled individuals, Native Americans, and others.  Check out usajobs.gov for a wealth of information about finding and applying for positions with the United States government.

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. These governmental entities may also have special hiring programs for which you might possibly qualify.

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.  Governments typically have complex purchasing processes requiring piles of paperwork and forms. If you have government experience, you may already know how this all works, making you very desirable as an employee. 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

So, am I suggesting government employment is all roses and greener grass?  You’re kidding, right? Show me a workplace that is! In reality, it depends 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 in state government who have switched their employment between various 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 places to work while others are not.

It is true “politics” impacts the government work environment.  No, 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 or non-approval of budget bills, etc. Depending on who gets elected, drastic changes in the focus and direction of work may occur. Still, as you already know, the issue of internal politics is certainly not limited to government and is commonplace in the private sector as well!

Government agencies often tend to be “by the book” employers.  So, expect lots of rules, regulations, policies, procedures, and numbered forms to fill out.  But, that’s not necessarily all bad or limited to government. For example; athletes must follow certain rules in order to play and win in their particular sports. It’s simple; if the rules aren’t followed, you can’t play or expect to win. Similarly, government 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 may likely do great in government employment!

The Outlook for Government Employment

A quick look at government employment projections shows modest and mixed changes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a slight decrease in Federal government employment of -0.2% for the period 2016 to 2026, while state and local government employment is expected to increase by 0.4% during the same period.

I believe that although government job sectors are not expecting new or expanded growth, there will still be an increase in job openings for existing positions. Why? Because baby boomers are aging. According to an article by the Pew Research Center, from the years 2011 to 2030, 10,000 baby boomers per day will reach the age of 65.

Of course, most will not retire at exactly age 65. In fact, the trend is for many to continue working later and later for a number of reasons. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 41% of nonretirees plan to retire at age 66 or older.

Still, just the rising age of these workers suggests a massive exodus from the government workplace is imminent at some point. 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 of workers.  That someone might just be you!

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?
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Featured image courtesy of Baldur93-Pixabay.

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