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Over the years, we’ve chatted with high school and college students about the potential of careers working for state and local governments. All too often their responses are something like “Yeah, I suppose so,” in tones that make us believe that they’re not supposing anything at all, except that the whole thing sounds like a crashing bore. This is particularly dismaying for the two of us who have devoted our careers to this corner of the world.


We are pretty sure that for the most part they have little or no idea what kinds of jobs local government can offer aside from the obvious ones like police, fire, and sanitation.

Over the last several years, as the workforce shortage has afflicted many governments, we’ve reported about all kinds of outreach efforts that attempt to show the life of a government employee as a secure one with potential for advancement and the opportunity to benefit the world. These efforts are paying off in some places, but we think that many cities, counties and states are missing out on a potentially more persuasive approach.


Instead of trying to sell jobs in local government as though that had much meaning, do a better job at showing potential candidates all the genuinely exciting missions that local government leads to.


In a recent conversation with John Bartle, President-Elect of the American Society for Public Administration and Dean of the College of Public Affairs and Community Service at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, he expounded on precisely what we’re thinking.


“My children are 25 and 23,” he told us. “And they and their friends are not excited to work for the government. However, they are excited to advance many of the goals that require government and the nonprofit sector: peace-making, disaster response, improving racial and gender equity in programs, fair taxation, labor rights, and child protection.”


According to the National Center for Education Statistics the following are the most common majors for aspiring students to earn a baccalaureate diploma: business, health professions and related programs; social sciences and history; biology and biomedical scientists; psychology and engineering. All of these fields offer a plethora of jobs in government. And that doesn’t even count the “helping jobs,” like social work that are appealing to many.


Okay, we admit that maybe the big dreams of many teens – to be professional athletes, movie stars or rock musicians – aren’t on the roster of job titles in government. But we do believe that outside of fantasy-land job plans, there are plenty of young people who aspire to help other people. Better educating them in the many opportunities that exist in the realm of government is a way to sell the brands of jobs that cities, counties and states can offer.



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