How does a 20-something with a civil service bug break into the public sector?
Working in a local, state, or federal government environment may be less foreign for a young person who has military experience or familial connections, but what about those without? Where is the door to step inside? Are the steps so high and intimidating that individuals are deterred? This is a huge portion of our young, active workforce population.
These questions examine a topic that is as multi-faceted as anything else. The three points that arise for me are as follows…
- Not even on the radar.
Unless an individual has a personal connection with someone who works in the public sector, how might they ever know about these career paths? It could be suggested to them by a professor, sure – but what if they are not in college? There are few if any media-marketing efforts made to recruit fresh blood into the public sector. With the barrage of attention hooks seen throughout their day, many people lack the information (or any connection) they need to pursue a career in the public sector. The information might be out there, but they’re not seeing it.
Some people might argue that this is okay – that the public sector is better off hiring those who seek those jobs specifically. I would argue that if a talented individual is just starting out in the world, they are going to keep getting swept up by the private sector companies who are a) getting their recruiters out there, b) actively informing their target audience, and c) incentivizing the hell out of it.
- Where do I start?
Here I will give huge props to communities that participate in career day festivals and offer internships. That’s great! I still think it should be better advertised. Consider the portion of the workforce that is bright and eager but lacking a technical certification or degree. If a community can get their message in front of all of those eyes, they will benefit from casting a wider talent net.
(This post’s voice will turn towards the public sector management now, but everyone else is welcome to listen in.)
As internet savvy as they may be, cyberspace is too wide and too busy to simply rely on them finding your job posting. Again, kudos to the communities (and their media managers) who are posting on social media.
Specifically with jobs that (typically) require no certification or degree – i.e. emergency communications – cast that net wide! Get the word out there. We need good people, and they need to know that they are eligible. If this can be a door for them, we need to shine a light on it!
3. Stable, sustainable incentives.
I heard about an agency that is offering a $10,000 hiring bonus for emergency dispatchers. Another retention idea is scheduled pay increases. Shift differential. Tuition assistance. Child care. Retirement matching. Brainstorm what you could offer, and how much is sustainable. Having progressive financial compensation – particularly tied to certification levels, years of experience, continuing education, etc – is really important. They might work for beans at first, but everyone wants to know that some bacon is in their future. The incentives don’t have to be all money – but if a comm center is so short-staffed that you can’t offer them non-monetary benefits like lunch breaks – the situation is not sustainable.
I speak as a millennial with that civic service “bug”. I searched for a door and found emergency communications. The hiring process was so long and drawn out that I actually ended up taking another job for two years (working as a public safety state contractor) before re-applying. I’ll note that the crazy long hiring process is a real deterrent for a lot of people – so if you’re a potential applicant, hang in there! It might take a while. (For those who might roll their eyes and label me as ‘another impatient millennial’, please know that this was ~2009 and my application was caught in a hiring freeze.)
So I figured out where to start, but where to go from there? After three years I became a trainer in our comm center, and later created this blog. I enrolled in a local university ‘public sector leadership’ program in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree with the help of my employer’s tuition assistance program. Still, I wanted to feel that my path was progressing… when lo and behold, another door appeared.
This is my last week in dispatch. I will be transitioning to my agency’s community affairs unit. Instead of being a strictly “vocal” liaison to our community, I’ll have my face out there! I’ll be collaborating with a great team in coordinating our many community outreach events. Our agency strives to engage our citizens through many (many!) different programs, and provides quality-of-life services with the help of donated time and resources. We have a strong team of volunteers from all walks of life that truly believe in strengthening our community through service. While working in dispatch I joined that team of volunteers, and now I’ll have the opportunity to help even more.
What will happen to this blog? (Oh no?!) I will maintain it as I have been, with thoughts and musings about once a month. The 911/PSAP world is changing with new technology (FirstNet Partners with AT&T to Build Wireless Broadband Network for America’s First Responders), and there will always be folks trying to learn about how to be a 911 dispatcher. I remember, I was there at one point!
P.S. I’m keeping up my Telecommunicator license as well as my TCIC/NCIC Associate Trainer certification, so I do expect that I will remain active in dispatch periodically. The “last week in dispatch” line was for dramatic effect. 😉