It’s no secret that government spending is dropping. As congress mandates more spending cuts in an effort to stay below the debt ceiling, federal government employees in national parks, museums, and other departments are losing their long-held jobs. Other employees are being furloughed for an indefinite period of time due to the government shutdown.
In this career climate, the government job market might seem too bleak to even be worth discussing - but certain opportunities do still exist for experienced workers with the right skill sets. Here, experts in public-sector career fields lay out the facts they’ve picked up in their own day-to-day work.
The immediate future of many federal-level jobs looks grim; there’s no doubt about that. The job outlook at the local and state level, on the other hand, is much less threatening. An August 2013 Gallup poll found that agencies at these levels of government are likely to keep creating jobs slowly but steadily, even as federal jobs dwindle.
Despite the varying budgets (and solvency) of individual state and local governments - and the fact that reductions in federal funding may hit many of them where it hurts - executives at state and local agencies say they don’t expect federal cuts to disrupt their day-to-day operations in any crucial way. Though job growth at the local and state levels may be slow for the next few years, experts say job security at these levels is unlikely to experience many serious threats.
Even so, the most secure positions at these levels of government are likely to be those involving valuable skill sets, rather than low-level administrative posts. “There are few entry level positions being advertised by governments right now,” says Gerald Pecinovsky, president of Falcon Associates, a company that maintains the public-sector career site govtjobs.com. “I’d advise young professionals start with an entry-level position in a mid-sized or large organization, then apply the experience gained there toward a management-level role in a small community.”
Information technology plays an important role in every government office. Municipal utilities depend on computers for billing and customer relations; parks use geographic information systems (GIS) to track and manage physical resources; police forces keep databases on cases they work; and so on, throughout the local, state, and federal levels. And information technology professionals are the ones who keep those systems up and running.
“IT workers are going to continue to be winners in the government job market,” says Phil Windley, founder and chief technology officer of Kynetx, a social media company that works with many public-sector clients. “Every form of public-sector work is coming to depend more and more on software.”
Although federal-level IT departments are likely to be hit with layoffs in the coming months, many agencies would lose the ability to operate effectively if they laid off their entire IT staff - making network administration and database management positions more secure than many others in federal bureaucracy. Even local and state governments are becoming more responsive to technological upgrades - and the rosier overall job outlook at these agencies hints that they may prove to be sweet spots for IT professionals.
In fact, increased federal emphasis on cyber security appears poised to drive job creation. Federal agencies like the Department of Defense and the National Security Administration are investing billions of dollars in online threat detection and cyber warfare, in expectation of a dramatic increase in cyber threats over the next several years. Effective cyber warfare requires a complex and efficiently interconnected communications network - one that’ll require thousands of IT professionals to build, improve and maintain.
“This doesn't mean everyone ought to be a programmer or sysadmin,” Windley explains. “But as these trends continue to unfold, people who understand the IT world and its importance will be more valuable than those who aren't plugged in.”
Every city and state has to protect its citizens - and many of those citizens want to know they’re under the best protection their government can afford. This is good news for public safety workers at any level of government - whether they serve in a local police force, a highway patrol unit or a federal law enforcement bureau.
“Public safety continues to be a core service that citizens want at all costs,” Pecinovsky says. “Though you may hear of cases where the public safety workforce is significantly reduced, that’s usually because of extreme circumstances, such as municipal bankruptcy; it’s not indicative of any larger downward trend.” Thus, the job outlook in public safety is holding steady, especially at local and state levels.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a slower-than-average 7-percent job growth rate for police officers and detectives (including state and federal law enforcement officers) between now and 2020. While that may not seem particularly heartening, it’s still one of the Bureau’s most positive public-sector job growth projections, at a time when the figures for many federal agencies are dropping into the negatives.
A wide variety of roads can lead to a long-term career in the public sector - and although many of those roads appear to be blocked off at present, options are available for those who understand how to target their job searches. Focusing your search on indispensable public services, and on localities that remain relatively financially stable, can help you land a secure government job in almost any economy.