By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Government employment still appeals

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.

Posted on Dec 05, 2011 at 7:27 PM

Reader Comments

Sat, Dec 17, 2011

I entered the Federal Government through the Student Career Experience Program (SCEP). SCEP is such an amazing program and I am glad that it is simply being replaced with the "Internship Program," which is basically the same thing as SCEP.

Wed, Dec 7, 2011

Government jobs are still viable only if you are a 30% or more diabled Vet. I am a disabled vet (only 10%) with a successful track record and skills commensurate with my resume words; however, the last two positions I applied for were marked for 30% or more disabled Vets...I was told up front I presented an excellent resume with the skills they are looking for but my disability pref was not high enough, Are you scratching your head now.

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 dp dc

Bill,I agree with your description of DoE and EPA. But this is not a flaw. It is a survey of perception. If these college students have never worked in the DoE or Google environment, they don't really know what to expect, especially as entry-level. I tend to agree w/ Kelman that this is a positive for Fed service. But, the Fed ability to hire and give these young people interesting work will be key in keeping them.

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 Bill

This survey has a fundamental flaw. They didn't adequately describe the types of jobs at each agency. I know as an engineer, that many people hear of very interesting tasks that DOE performs. What they don't know is that those jobs are performed by contractors to DOE. A large number of DOE jobs are contract oversight. As a DOE employee, you aren't doing the science or engineering. You are doing contract management. EPA has a system where they create regulations of which many are overseen by the states in agreement with EPA. EPA isn't doing the actual work, they write rules. Underpaid state employees do the real work. I wonder how interested the students would be if the actual jobs were described.

Tue, Dec 6, 2011 OccupyIT

BTW, I am seeing more and more USG folks job searching in the private sector as their fear of future RIFs looms - even in IT...

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