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Federal Careers Present Unique Opportunities

By Experience

The benefits of a public sector job are numerous: for starters, government entities tend to be fairly stable. An agency does not go out of business because a new agency moves in across the street with discount prices.

Early on in the life of the United States, Benjamin Franklin reported in a letter, "Our Constitution is in actual operation; everything appears to promise it will last..."

And then he added his famous line: "But in this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes."

Then, like now, it was inevitable that Uncle Sam (not to mention his cousins in every state and town in the land) would collect money to pay for services, provide security and enforce the laws of the land.

These are government jobs. "Nice work," they say, "If you can get it."

As of 2002, according the U.S. Department of Labor, the federal government employed about 1.9 million civilian workers. This does not include those in the armed services (2.5 million) and Postal workers (another 664,000).

Add to this the estimated 7.9 million people employed by towns, townships, cities, and counties in all 50 states (this count does not include teachers or hospital workers), and you can begin to get the notion that there must be an opportunity for just about anyone in the "Public Sector," by far the single biggest source of jobs in the nation.

The benefits of a public sector job are numerous: Government entities tend to be fairly stable. An agency does not go out of business because a new agency moves in across the street with discount prices. In fact, unlike companies in the private sector, the government has little to sell, and so it tends to be unaffected (in the short term, at least) by booms, busts, consumer spending and Wall Street.

Once hired, employees may miss some of the opportunities for rapid promotions and raises found in the public sector, but they can look forward to predictable reviews, promotions based on merit, and good benefits, including at retirement.

At the federal level, as of 2002 (the most recent statistics available), workers could be found in nearly every imaginable occupation, but according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, three out of four were listed as working in professional and related; management, business and financial; or office and administrative support. All told, fewer than 15 percent worked in Washington, D.C.; most were in offices scattered about the country and about 3 percent were assigned overseas.

Not surprisingly, the professional ranks were dominated by research scientists, foresters, conservation and geological specialists, and engineers from a variety of disciplines, including aerospace, civil, computer hardware, electrical, industrial, mechanical, and nuclear.

Management, business, and financial workers made up about 28 percent of Federal employment and were primarily responsible for overseeing operations. These employees could be found within all three branches of government: legislative, judicial and executive.

The executive branch, with 15 cabinet divisions and nearly 90 independent agencies, employs 98 percent of federal workers, the Department of Labor reports.

At agencies and offices throughout the federal government, there are entry-level positions open to grads with an associate's or more often a bachelor's degree. You name the disciple and chances are the government will need it. Competition can be stiff for many of these openings, however. Knowing someone at an agency can be helpful, as can contacts made with the staff in the office of a local Congressman or Senator. Many government departments also have relationships with professors and administrators at colleges and universities, so be sure to let them know if you are interested in a particular job. You can never tell who can open a door for you!

Jobs within the legislative branch, working on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., as a staff member for a Congressman or Senator can be particularly suited to those leaving college and looking for some experience before heading off to graduate or law school. "The Hill," as it's commonly referred to, is teeming with young people who are willing to work long hours, often on several projects at once, for an opportunity to get an insider's view of how the government works. Often, the work is focused on issues that will benefit people, the environment, business or some other target for legislation. The contacts you make and the issues you learn about in these positions can open many doors for you later in your career.

Jobs at the state and local level are apt to be more focused on providing services to various groups of constituents.

In state government, agencies might administer social services, oversee revenue collection, enforce regulations and manage offices that issue licenses, plan transportation improvements, direct economic development and support law enforcement. While the Department of labor notes that occupations in state government mirror those found throughout the economy, there are some jobs that are unique. These include tax examiners, collectors, and revenue agents; urban and regional planners; and the judiciary, including correctional officers and jailers. A four-year bachelor's degree will often provide the required training for these careers.

In cities and towns, police, fire and public works departments are likely to be the largest employers, supported by a smaller number of municipal managers, financial workers and other staff.

Increasingly, communities are requiring police officers to have an associate's or bachelor's degree. Firefighters also are expected to have extensive training, including course work in fire safety and knowledge to pass a civil service exam. Civil engineers are often sought for highway departments.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, job growth at the federal, state and local level are all predicted to lag that of all industries combined through much of the next decade. Government entities, while relatively immune to short term economic events, are subject to more long-term trends, particularly the resistance to higher taxes.

At the federal level, notes the department, staff increases created by the post 9/11 focus on Homeland Security are apt to be offset by cost cutting, the increased use of private contractors and "devolution" (turning over programs to state and local government.)

Growth in jobs at the federal level is forecast to be 3 percent though 2012, according to government experts.

State and local government job growth is forecast to be a bit more robust?- about 10 percent?- although still trailing average job growth for all industries of about 16 percent through 2012.

Growth at state and local offices will come partially through the pass down of programs from Washington, and also because of increased demand for police and fire protection, along with social services for the elderly, the ill and children, federal experts say.

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