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Readers' reactions: Why college grads snub government careers

Why aren’t college grads more interested in public-sector jobs? According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a mere 2.3 percent of polled students plan on working for the federal government. Dr. Paul Light, a government reform expert, offered his insight on why college grads turn their backs to government careers:

“The federal government, I think, is an employer of last resort, and generally, a negligent employer,” he said at a recent presentation held at the Partnership for Public Service. “Not enough investment in training and not enough opportunity to grow, issues of fairness, promotion, pay, process – issues of cowardice in the disciplinary process.”

Reader Erich Darr said it was hardly shocking why the younger generation sees government as a final option. “Isn't it a surprise that young people consider the federal government the employer of last resort, when the civil service has become the whipping boy of the administration and Congress?” he asked.

Listing the challenges federal employees have faced in recent years, another reader questioned why anyone would find the government an appealing employer. “Let’s see, pay freeze - possibly indefinitely, Congress says feds don't do anything ... and feds are reason for deficit, and other clueless comments from various ignorant people, etc., etc. Gee, why wouldn't anyone jump to work in that environment?” Virginia asked.

But those young people given the chance to pursue a government career, “want to do, to make, to solve, to take pride in and to experience the sense of accomplishment and hard work that doing a good job entails,” SPMayor wrote. However, “we are robbing them of those opportunities and then want to know why the cupboard is bare,” the reader added.

Offering his/her insight as a recent college grad, one reader said lack of information about federal jobs was one of the reasons a public-sector career never was a priority, as well as the perception that the government isn’t the most happening place for young folks.

“The young people of today want to work at companies like Google and Facebook,” the reader said. “Smart energetic young people want to work with other smart energetic young people. So, as you can imagine, the public sector didn’t seem like anything to get excited about.”

But after a year of unsuccessful job hunting in the private industry, that reader took a job at a federal agency, which was “a great choice – a great way to get a career started and build practical experience,” he/she said.

“In today’s economic climate, jobs are thin,” that reader continued. “If the public sector is worried about securing highly educated young talent for the future, they need to meet the students half way and at least let them know that there are good government jobs available.”

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Reader comments

Sat, Apr 14, 2012 Tom Northern MN

My voice is just one of many recent graduates who feel neglected by the federal government. Last fall there were recent graduates protesting all across the country trying to get politicians to listen to us. After weeks/months of protesting our government representatives still weren't hearing us, so some recent graduates began setting up makeshift camps near the state capital. When our elected officials saw this they threaded to have us arrested as we were violating a city ordinance. From the perspective of the younger generation, unless you are over the age of 40 can be a potential campaign contributor senators and other elected representatives choose to neglect the younger generation. Employers desire work experience, however it is near impossible to get the initial position that will provide the critical experience necessary to land a permanent position. Many private companies won't even let a person volunteer because they are afraid of lawsuits. I am 28 years old, and I'm in complete agreeance with the vast majority of the younger generation when i say we despise the U.S. federal government. The purpose of elected officials is to make decisions that will benefit the country, not make decisions that will benefit themselves and their campaign contributors. The younger generation lives in great uncertainty of what our future will be like; the cost of living continues to rise while the standard of living goes down. Social Security is expected to be weak when it comes time to retire. Our recent politicians have passed laws turning everyone into a criminal. They have taken the mindset that if it isn't illegal it must be legal, there is little to no personal accountability, or responsibility. Prison inmates have a higher standard of living than many recent graduates. Many of you middle aged and older folks, can remember a time when people took responsibility for their own actions or at the very least were punished for doing something wrong. These days everyone is afraid of being sued so they stay quiet and fail to act when they should. The younger generation is without a federal government that cares about them, or listens to them. Even if someone from the younger generation manages to find employment within the federal government, at the first sign of budget cut backs that persons position is the first to be terminated. My personal opinion is that all currently elected Senators shouldn't be paid(the federal government should give them a dorm room, food, health insurance and a transportation allowance), and that voting along party lines should be illegal. I also think that anyone receiving medical attention should sign an educated risk statement thus waving their right to sue, the result of this would lower medical costs by at least 200%! To every problem there is a cause, to every cause there is an effect, to every effect there is an action, and to every action there is a solution.

Fri, Mar 2, 2012 Smart Devices

Go to a college campus and watch the students with their smart (electronic) devices. They are in constant communication with their peers. That includes constantly listening to and caring about each other. They build each other up. They work together as a team. In contrast listen to the retoric the media uses to describe the peers in the federal workplace, with threats, insults, intimidation, spin (lacking truth). DAH! Watch the kid & listen to media. Which group treats h others with respect and honesty?

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 John Denver

Oh my - I may have made a HUGE mistake! I thought my position here was voluntary, but based on the feedback I've read, it seems like we're mandated to stay whether we like it or not! Will we be found guilty of AWOL and be charge with treason if we quit? Oh my...

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 KC, MO

I spent half my career in private sector and after a late stint back in college, I spent the second half of my career in federal service. The job is great, but the politics and management are terrible. I agree with an earlier poster regarding being treated like children. You are a pawn in a managers game to make themselves look good. In the private sector, I worked independently without a manager onsite. In the government, someone stands over me constantly watching every move I make. I do not feel like a valuable member of a team even though I am a high grade, IT, knowledge worker. I can understand why young people do not want to start a career with the government. Something else has always bothered me about entering a federal building every day for work. There is a picture of a president and a vice president staring down at you the first thing upon entering. It is a bit creepy (either party).

Tue, Feb 14, 2012 RayW

1982, fresh out of college, I was offered $25K a year in a real life job and $15K in a gov job, and the promotion/pay raise path was much faster in the real life job. The gov job was older technology, the real life job was newer technology. Most of the benefits were about the same, medical was better in the real life job as I recall.

1999, having gone though another layoff and with the job market not being in the best shape, I was offered a gov job doing what I did in the real life job at about the same pay, GS12 step 9. Most of my peers who started with the gov were only GS12 step 3 to 5. The biggest difference was the leave, most of them had 15 to 20 years and max leave, I had three weeks at my real life job. But my military helped a lot in that I stayed at three weeks. Oh, and the gov medical benefits were worse than the real life version.

Given that information, what would you choose?

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