Every now and then we must stop to remind ourselves why we do what we do. Is it important? Do I like it? Is it worth it?
If someone would have asked me 30 years ago if I wanted to take a job in the Public Sector, my response, would have been a resounding, “no way”. I wanted to work for the private sector, which seemed far more interesting at the time. I spent the first 15 years of my career moving from organization to organization to learn more, increase my opportunities and climb the corporate ladder.
While I learned a lot during that time, I was looking for something that I felt was still missing from my work in all these different industries. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted the ability to have my work mean something more.
The company where I was working was sold and I found myself in a position to either look for a new job or relocate and stay with my current employer. I could never imagine leaving Colorado. I am a proud native and I can’t think of a better place to live. But it was then that a new opportunity presented itself. The City and County of Denver was looking for someone to lead their payroll department and they wanted me. I believe that taking that role filled that gap and helped me find what I had been missing. I now had the opportunity to truly make a difference.
You might ask yourself, “how would running a payroll department in the city make a difference?”. I didn’t know the answer to that question than, but I do today. During my time at the city, using technology, my team was able to make significant changes that saved money, improved our business processes and helped to ensure that the employee’s paychecks were accurate and timely. Employees are not engaged and focus on their work, if they are worried that their paychecks might not be correct.
In many areas of the country, public organizations are viewed as “employers of last resort”. This perception of the public sector workforce being somehow inferior to its private sector counterparts creates real issues for public HR professionals in terms of their ability to recruit and retain the best and the brightest employees for their organization.
Some of the work performed in government is not sexy, it generally does not carry the highest pay and often represents everything that is wrong about state and society. We don’t see too many young people interested in government or government-related jobs. Budget cuts, poor pay, bad retention and generally bad press associated with government are pretty good reasons not to want to join.
But maybe the most exciting place to be nowadays is in public service. Imagine working for a city and being able to make long-range structural changes to its development policy at young ages. With an aging workforce, recruiters should be highlighting these perks of the job when trying to look for motivated young candidates who could start their careers in public service.
I’d like to take a moment to highlight some very impressive examples of people under-30 who thrived when given the opportunity to lead. If you can source motivated young candidates, who’s to say that you can’t have people like this in your public agency?
Rachel Hoat, the former Chief Digital Officer of New York City who at 29 years old oversaw an online municipal presence that included the city’s official website (nyc.gov) and 280 distinct social media channels. Her combined reach was more than six million visitors every month and the website is a critical part of the city’s communication plan during emergencies.
Jon Cetel, 28, Founding Executive Director, PennCAN. A savvy grassroots education advocate who has demonstrated the ability to get policy goals passed through the Pennsylvania legislature quickly.
Yohannes Abraham, the 26-year-old director for Obama in 2012. He was previously the former national political director at Organizing for America.