Graduates drawn to public service careers

Alison Wardle knows how to beat a recession.

The master’s candidate, working toward a degree in public policy in GW’s Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, plans to bypass Wall Street and law firms in hopes of getting a job in public service.

Once mired in a reputation of bureaucracy and low pay, the public service sector is quickly gaining popularity due to a weakening economy and President Barack Obama’s call to service.

“We will ask Americans to serve,” Obama said during a speech on the campaign trail in July. “We will create new opportunities for Americans to serve. And we will direct that service to our most pressing challenges.”

Even before the national unemployment rate rose to 8.5 percent in March, many college students were worried about finding a job after graduation, which is why Wardle trusts the public sector. Calling the government the “hot” new place to work, Wardle likes the stability the government will be able to offer with her future job.

“I get the impression that these jobs will provide a more stable career. With the economy in recession, a lot of private companies are laying off workers,” she said. “It is my impression that the government is making up for this by hiring more than normal.”

The government is hiring for entry-level positions in almost every major city in the country, according to the Partnership for Public Service.

“We don’t have any numbers of this, but I have seen students from a range of majors saying they are looking into the public service sector,” said Jeff Dagley, communications coordinator for GW’s Career Center. “It is all anecdotal but people are changing the way they look at government jobs.”

The Washington Post reported in late March that lines at tables for government employers like the Central Intelligence Agency, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense at a spring career fair at George Mason University were astoundingly long.

“There are a lot of ways to serve your country, and one of them is holding a government job,” said Laurence Shatkin, author of the book “150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs,” in an interview.

The Elliott School of International Affairs sends a significant number of students into public-sector jobs, who find an outlet to apply their international education. The State Department currently employs 93 GW graduates as Civil Service employees and another 283 graduates as Foreign Service Officers, according to State Department statistics.

Wardle hopes to get a job with the Government Accountability Office or the Office of Management and Budget. The only foreseeable hitch, she said, seems to be the prospect of paying back loans, and “government jobs don’t pay much.”

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