Government, Higher Education, and Human Resources

Local government jobs still lure new college graduates

But many are finding opportunities in the nonprofit sector, too.

December 15, 2012
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LANSING — For recent college grads wanting government jobs, the overall number of opportunities continues to shrink.

But there is still hope — local governments in some areas are hiring more staff, according to Phil Gardner, director of research for the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

“Right now, public sector jobs really depend on retirements,” Gardner said. “Government is one sector where retirements have been and are expected to provide opportunities for new graduates. But retirements have not started in big numbers yet — unless forced.”

According to Michigan labor market information, local governments in Wayne County hired 386 employees in the first quarter of 2012, ranking first among all counties, followed by Macomb and Ingham.

But the total number of local government employees decreased slightly, according to the same report, which was compiled by the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

“Governments do not always expect to replace all the retirees,” Gardner said. “There will be some opportunities and it will be competitive.”

Thomas Robertson, executive director of the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan, said some counties are hiring assistant prosecutors, including new law school graduates.

“They are also generally open to people with experience,” Robertson said. “But if recent graduates don’t apply, they will not know if they are qualified.”

Robertson said they are hiring based on what applicants can do, no matter whether they are recent graduates or experienced.

“The main thing is, do they have the practical experience so the prosecutor will feel safe to put them into the courtroom?” he said.

Mark Hoffman, director of the School of Public, Nonprofit and Health Administration at Grand Valley State University, said students’ interests have changed, too.

“Compared with city managers’ jobs, students are more interested in nonprofit management now,” he said.

Among the program’s 64 graduates last year, only three found jobs in a local or city government, while 38 ended up working at a nonprofit organization.

“Young people used to be inspired to change the world by working as a city manager,” Hoffman said. “But now they generally see nonprofit organizations as a better way to accomplish their goal.”

But there are still students who want a career in municipal government.

Selma Tucker, a Grand Valley alumnus, has worked for the city of Grand Rapids since he graduated in 2009.

“Governments need young people,” Tucker said. “The new problems they continuously face require a different kind of view.”

Tucker did a fellowship with the city before he graduated and then got a position as an IT program coordinator.

“I was clear I wanted to work here,” he said. “I did a good job during the internship and they thought of me as a person who is bright and has a lot of passion.”

But sometimes working for government can be frustrating, Tucker said.

“Young people want to put their hands on and fix problems,” he said. “But they always oversimplify those problems.”

Another thing that bothers Tucker, he said, is that governments don’t move at a fast pace. “We usually have to slow down and take a few steps off.”

Tucker said persistence is always the hardest part.

“It takes years to build your reputation, to make people trust you,” he said. “You have to keep your passion.”

Tucker’s passion comes from his love of and interest in urban areas, he said. “When you look at cities, you get a lot of diversity. A city can play a role that is good for families and for young people.”

He has gotten several promotions and now works as an administrator and regional coordinator in the Department of Community Development.

However, according to Grand Valley’s Hoffman, rural areas provide more opportunities for recent graduates.

“In big cities, governments are cutting jobs,” he said. “If you commit to start a career as a city manager, you need to start in rural areas.”

Hoffman said city managers who have gained experience in Michigan’s rural areas are popular in all Midwest states, and that popularity will provide a wider opportunity when it’s time to move up.

“You will be most attractive to Midwest cities because we are facing similar problems,” Hoffman said. “In Ohio and Wisconsin, snow and wild animal control are important, too.”

He suggested that new graduates who aim at working for a local government check opportunities in the northern part of the state, especially the northern Lower Peninsula.

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