Local Government Careers…Give us a chance!
As I mentioned last week, we held our first NCACC focus group on June 6. The focus group, which focused on fellowships and working in county government, included MPA students from UNC, NCSU, and NCCU. While many of the comments were expected from this group (i.e. students haven’t spent much time looking into fellowships), the most interesting aspect of the discussion surrounded the lack of knowledge about county government. Admittedly, I knew very little about local government when I entered the MPA program. My focus was more on nonprofit management. For some reason, I always assumed I was more of an exception to the rule. However, it is becoming clear that many students are unaware of the opportunities for direct impact within local government.
Many programs and outreach activities focus on civic education, particularly at the high school level. Until recently, the School of Government was home of the NC Civic Education Consortium. In many ways, it makes sense to educate students when they are younger about civic education and government. For some reason, though, I do not remember learning much about local government in my high school career. The focus, as I remember, was on state and federal government. Of course, in college your major determines a large portion of what you end up learning, and I certainly do not recall local government education being part of any general education requirement. So, where does that leave us? There is an assumption that students will understand the basics of local government at some point in their educational careers. However, a large number of students are not receiving this education and consequently have no idea what local government offers. How, then, can we expect young professionals to want to work in the field when they really have no idea what it entails?
An important point was brought up in the focus group discussion: it is not the right of MPA programs to steer students in one direction over another; it is the responsibility of these programs to ensure that students understand the options available to them. Admittedly, this is much easier said than done. If students aren’t interested in learning about those options, it is very difficult to showcase them without becoming overbearing. As such, I would urge my fellow students to take a bit of time to at least learn about the different sectors in public service. Local government is not for everyone, but it is worth our time and effort to find out if it could be for us. If it ends up that you still are not interested, wonderful! You’ll know for sure that your decision isn’t haphazardly made. But if you don’t take the time to even look into the options, you’ll never know if you’re missing out on something.
I’d also add, bureaucratic as it may seem, I am continually impressed by the direct impact local government careers have on citizens. As someone who is motivated by the ability to connect with people and feel like I’m “making a difference,” it was a pleasant surprise to see what options were available to me in local government. Don’t count anything out too soon…but do take the time to find what’s right for you. 🙂