Seeking Security in Government Work

Seeking Security in Government Work

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For decades, Wall Street was seen as a destination for college graduates and financial hot shots the world over.

Prestige, big pay checks, and soaring bonuses all were part of the promise of Wall Street. And in the spirit of competition, they quickly became the promises of the private sector, attracting some of America's best and brightest.

But those promises and the private sector prestige might have lost some of their luster.

In the eyes of a growing number of politicians, small business owners, and average Americans, it was the sins of Wall Street and the financial sector that brought the U.S. economy to its knees. That perception, true or not, is driving a portion of America's young workforce to shun the financial sector and private enterprise in general in favor of careers in government or nonprofits.

According to a survey of college students conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the plans of the college class of 2009 are somewhat different than those of previous classes. The biggest difference, the survey found, is a shift away from finding a job in the for-profit, private sector. In fact, only 39% of college seniors said they hoped to get a job in the private sector after graduation. That was down from 45% of respondents from previous classes.

The same survey found that interest in working for nonprofits increased from 14% in 2008 to more than 17% in 2009. A job in government was a target for slightly more than 10% of the 2009 graduating class compared with 8.9% of seniors graduating in 2008.

But a negative perception of Wall Street isn't the only factor driving the trend.

Massive layoffs in the financial sector, the election of a new president, and the overall outlook of the Millennial generation — which tends to be more focused on having an impact on society and helping others — are also driving more young people to government and nonprofit careers, says Scott Talan, director of communications at the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration.

And because new career goals often require a different level or type of degree, enrollment in schools and programs with a focus on public administration is on the rise.

In a recent survey, NASPAA found that 82% of its members reported an increase in applications in 2009. Many saw the largest-percentage jumps in their history. The most cited reason for the increase: the perception by students that the government will be hiring.

Though government workers hold a variety of degrees, a bachelor's in public administration, public affairs, or, to some extent, political science gives an aspiring government worker the breadth and depth needed for success, says Rhonda Allen, an associate professor in the Department of Public Administration at South University – Savannah, Online Division. A master's degree in public administration is another option.

"Most public administration degrees cover the full scope of the public management arena — budgeting, personnel, inter-governmental relations, politics, administration dichotomy, and program/policy analysis," says Allen, who is the MPA program director. "These areas serve as a solid foundation for working in government."

Indeed, the NASPAA survey showed big increases in applications to public policy, public affairs, and public administration schools, Talan says.

More than 38% of survey respondents attributed the increase to a perception that government will be hiring students with such degrees. Roughly 16% said applications were up because private sector degrees and jobs are less attractive in today's economy. But given the still rising unemployment figures in this country, who's to say there is room for all the interested applicants in government or nonprofit?

One needs only to look at the list of federal job openings to see that both the "need and interest" for applicants in government is there, says Allen.

"Keep in mind that while many government agencies are struggling financially, the sheer size of government results in ongoing job vacancies and hiring in many agencies," she says.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) signed into law in 2009 is also creating new jobs in government that didn't previously exist.  According to, the website created to track the stimulus funds, more than 640,000 jobs had been created or saved by ARRA through the end of October.

"All indications," Allen says, "suggest that jobs are being created."

Written by freelance talent for South Source.

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