College grads uninterested in government careers

The federal government is facing serious issues with recruiting and attracting new talent as a new report reveals that only a trivial number of college graduates are considering a public service career.

The Partnership for Public Service analyzed the results of the 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers Survey that asked more than 35,000 students about their employment plans, including what they would like in their first job, their salary expectations and whether they intend to work in the public sector.

The findings show that only 6 percent of the polled college students said they plan to embark on a state or local government career after they graduate. An even smaller number (2.3 percent) reported they intend to work for the U.S. federal government after finishing school.

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“This is a warning sign for the federal government,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service. “Historically, most federal agencies shut down their relationships with universities and stopped hiring young folks and got out of the business of recruiting, and that’s a big mistake.”

The survey found that more former government interns (17.9 percent) plan on joining the federal government than students without that experience, yet 25 percent say they favor private sector employment.

Agencies should strengthen their ties with academia in order to attract talent, and part of their strategy should involve doubling down on internship programs, Stier said. “College campuses also need to advise faculty so they have a better sense about the job opportunities in the federal government,” he said.

The lack of information about federal careers, coupled with the cumbersome hiring process, factor into to why government jobs are “not even on [students’] radar screens,” Stier said. NACE data also show a year-to-year diminishing interest among students to join the government. In 2008, 8.4 percent of the respondents said they planned to work at the local, state or federal level. That number hit the 10- percent mark in 2009, but fell to 7.4 percent in 2010 and 6 percent in 2011, according to the report.

“I can’t say it’s surprising,” he continued, “but it’s alarming that these numbers have dropped as low as they have. It’s also indicative of the times we’re living in that  if our political leaders bash the federal workforce, that only decreases the likelihood that more talent want to go to government, which means we’re going to get less good government and I don’t think that’s the results we want.”


About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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Reader comments

Thu, Feb 9, 2012

Having worked for the Federal government for five years now, after a previous career in the private sector, it's understandable that many new grads don't want to work for the government. Yes, the starting pay is low, the office dynamics are frequently stifling and demotivational, and it doesn't help that we have a 3 year pay freeze going on right now. However, I agree with a previous comment that we don't necessarily want people who join the government right out of school and then stay there forever -- I think that's one way to create a bureaucrat rather than a productive worker. I may tick some people off with the following opinion, but -- I have no problem with young people cutting their teeth and learning a good work ethic in the private sector before joinging government service. Let the private sector weed out the good performers and the bad ones -- a process which the private sector is usually more effective at doing than government -- before they join government service. I think this opinion mainly applies to government civil agencies, where bureaucroacy can be king. I have heard (and hope it's true) that government workers with more meaningful jobs in the field tend to be more effective than those who ride a desk for their entire career.

Wed, Feb 8, 2012

I have two degrees and I have been in public service most of my adult career first as a paramedic/ fire fighter and now for a huge government agency with a stint in research in the middle. It is the most disrespectful and hostile to new ideas and methods to getting problems solved. Part of the problem is the hiring right out of college of young adults with no real world experience who then stay in fed service forever. Managment doens't want to learn anything new and do not want to apply any real scientifc knowledge to the very real problems we are seeing at a time when we desperatly need to be much smarter at what we do. Im not sure if the whole federal governement is like this or if its just my location that seems to be mired. If things don't change I will be leaving federal the moment I still see glimmers of hope so we shall see. Its not about the pay- its about the problem solving!!

Tue, Feb 7, 2012

Interesting spin on surveys. In 2009, the Partnership for Public Service published a report that showed 17% of college graduates had an interest in the Federal Government. Quite the contrast to the report of 10% in this article. Who knows what to believe?

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 John Baltimore

Federal service can be very rewarding. It should not be done primarily for economic concerns. To serve one's country one way or another is to serve the populace as a whole. I have personally worked in the private and government sector and found both to be very rewarding. Maybe the lesson here is that just because mommy and daddy paid to send you for a couple more years of school, the government will not go out of its way to hire you. I had to serve six years in the Navy for my schooling. I am sure six years of sacrifice and service will pay and then some for anyone's college.

Tue, Feb 7, 2012 Cowboy Joe

I love the smell of sarcasm in the morning ... Seriously, if the Feds can't attract more than 6% of the college population in times like these, we're in deep cow-patties in just a few years from now. I'm guessing at least half of that 6% are the evil geniuses who want to foreclose on the farm too.

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