Government employment still appeals

A survey finds that students rank federal agencies among the top places to work.

The New York Times recently ran a big advertising supplement by a company called Universum, which does surveys of college students in various countries to ask them about their idea of an ideal place to work. This year, Universum – based in Sweden -- did its first survey among US college students, surveying almost 62,000 undergraduates at 362 colleges. The result of the effort was list of the top 100 employers, as the students see it, in the categories of business, engineering, IT and natural sciences.
From the perspective of people worried about the ability of government to attract young people, the news was much better than I would have ever expected.
Let's start with two amazing results. NASA came in first place on the list of top employers for engineers, ahead of number 2-ranked Google. (Google was ranked number 1 for business jobs.)  And the National Institutes of Health came in first place for natural science jobs, ahead of number 2-ranked Mayo Clinic.
In general, a select group of government agencies did extremely well in these rankings. Government agencies had nine of the top 100 for jobs in business (this seems to be a catch-all category -- the highest-ranking government agency here was the FBI, number 8), 13 of the top 100 for engineering jobs (following first-ranked NASA were the Department of Energy at 8, the Environmental Protection Agency at 14, and the FBI at 17), 14 of the top 100 for natural science jobs (following first-ranked NIH were the Centers for Disease Control at 4, the Peace Corps at 6, EPA at 7, and NASA at 8). Of especial interest perhaps to readers of this blog, government had 16 of the top 100 for IT jobs -- with NASA (ranked 10th), NSA, CIA, DOD, the State Department, and the Air Force all ranking higher as IT employers than, say, the IT consulting firm Accenture (ranked 38).
It is very possible that, in these insecure economic times, the security of a government job looms heavily in the minds of many students -- although of course this may become an obsolete impression as budget cuts start to take effect. It is also of course true that the agencies to which students are attracted are the more glamorous parts of government. And, of course, given the dysfunctional hiring system, there's a big gap between interest and actually being able to land a job.
But, glass-half-full guy that I am, I prefer to concentrate on the good news. In this era of government-bashing, there are still a fair number of agencies that get amazingly high marks from students. That's good raw material to work with. Our responsibilities in government are, I think, two. One is to improve the hiring system to give these kids a chance to get jobs before they are scooped up by the many private businesses on these top-100 lists. The second is to give new hires interesting work -- significant responsibilities, a chance to learn (including making mistakes), and mentoring -- so government can not just recruit but also retain them.