Millenials Seek Public Service Jobs

No longer considered a backup, students pursue careers in the public sector.

March 24, 2011— -- Emily Walters wanted a career in translating -- until her experience as an intern with the U.S. State Department in Suriname, a small country located directly north of Brazil. After 10 weeks assisting with Visa processing, visual arts initiatives, and hosting a U.S. Business Expo, Walters knew the career she wanted.

"In Suriname I realized public service was what I wanted to do," she told "And with the statistics of hiring in the public sector and the job security it would provide, I was motivated to find a job."

But after applying to the U.S. State Department and to the U.S. Air Force Officer's School and still without a job offer, Walters finds herself a bit disheartened but not giving up on her dream of a job in the public service.

John Hotard, a career consultant who served as the director of the graduate business school's career services at New York University and Fordham University, said, "The public sector has always been an escape hatch for college graduates, but what we're seeing with this millennial generation is public service as a desired career path."

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, colleges and universities are expected to award 798,000 associate's degrees and 1,669,000 bachelor's degrees in the 2010–11 school year. With so many graduates entering the work force, current young college graduates may have even more difficulty finding a job in the public sector.

"The unprecedented unemployment in the U.S. has thrown young people into competition with adults who before the recession wouldn't have had difficulty finding a job or would be retiring," said Gregory DeFreitas, a professor of economics and the director of the Labor Studies Program at Hofstra University in Long Island, N.Y. "But now they're hanging on for dear life."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in February 2011 the unemployment rate for people 20 to 24 years old was more than 14 percent, whereas the unemployment rate for people over age 25 was 7.8 percent.

Walters, who graduated from Texas A&M in December with a double major in international relations and Spanish, is working at the school's Study Abroad Programs Office until she finds a job in the public sector.

"I don't want to change my area of interest," said Walters. "I have a passion for public service; I'm going to continue my job search."

The Millenials: A Commitment to Social Responsibility

According to Hotard, Walters' dream of working in the public sector is not uncommon among millenials.

"The world is a more global market place, and because it is more global many millenials want to get involved in public service permanently," said Hotard. "They highly value career development where they can practice their strong commitment to social responsibility."

Like Hotard, DeFreitas believes the dramatic increases in young graduates seeking public service jobs is not just out of their desperation for a job.

"Exposure to community service programs in high schools is giving these young people a chance to volunteer more at an earlier age, and they want to make a career of it," said DeFreitas.

However these millenials may have more trouble finding a job in the public sector than expected. The National Association of Colleges and Employers job outlook for 2011 found that more than one third of government employers are cutting plans for hiring new college graduates.

"It appears that for the first time in years, there are as many openings in the public sector as there are in the private," said Hotard. Prior to the current downturn in the economy, there were more job opportunities in the private sector. That "puts a lot of pressure on the millennials looking for a job in public service."

Walters' experience and the 2011 jobs outlook might suggest that young college graduates have few employment options in the public sector. But Jummy Obayanju, a senior majoring in public relations at Howard University in Washington, D.C., found success in discovering a path to public service.

Obayanju is one of a select few hundred university students from around the country who has committed to Teach For America (TFA), a public service program that recruits college graduates to teach for two years in low-income communities around the country.

Record Number of Teach For America Applicants

"For most of my college career I wanted to get a job in my major and go to law school, Teach For America was only something I had thought about a few times prior to my senior year," said Obayanju.

But after Obayanju met with TFA recruiters at Howard, she began looking deeper into the program. "Speaking with the TFA recruiter ignited this passion within me to make a difference. So I figured if I was applying for corporate jobs, why not apply somewhere I could do good while gaining new experiences?"

Anthony Lucci, a senior at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., majoring in business economics, was also chosen to join TFA.

"TFA offers an incredible opportunity for me to do some magnificent work for those less fortunate while being fully employed," he told "I can't think of another program, public or private, I'd rather be doing right now."

In 2005, TFA had an estimated 17,000 applicants for 2,000 positions. Today the number of applicants has more than doubled, with a record number of 46,000 individuals applying to join with only a 12 percent acceptance rate.

Volunteering: An Alternate Entry to Public Sector

While some millennials are seeking jobs in the public sector, there are others who are finding a place to start their careers in the public sector by volunteering.

After six months of careful consideration and research, Caroline Egan, a junior biomedical engineering major at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, made a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps upon graduation in May 2012.

"I want to work in an active environment and provide for those in need of my immediate assistance. Helping others is my top priority," said Egan.

In October 2010, the Peace Corps created another 1,000 volunteer positions to make a 40-year high in the number of volunteers enlisted. However, among the 13,500 new applicants in 2010, only one third of those applicants were accepted into the program.

Today there are currently 8,655 volunteers in 71 posts serving 77 countries.

Public Sector Jobs May Open Up As Workforce Retires

After living in New York City for a year while she attended New York University, Egan saw how harsh some living conditions could be and knew she wanted to do something where she could make a difference.

"The real problem is the thousands of men, women, and children that die every year from malnutrition, sickness and/or disease. My purpose in life is to decrease those numbers every year," said Egan.

After her commitment with the Peace Corps is fulfilled, Egan hopes that her volunteer work as a public servant will lead to acceptance to medical school at the NYU Langone Medical Center.

And like many millennials, Egan wants to continue a career in public service after medical school.

"My dream is to end up working at a hospital in places like Europe and several third-world countries," she said.

By 2016, employment opportunities may be looking up for young college graduates as an estimated 60 percent of the public sector's current workforce will be eligible for retirement, opening up a number of jobs at the federal, state, and municipal levels, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

According to the 2009 edition of Where the Jobs Are, federal agencies will be hiring more than 270,000 employees by September 2012. Federal hiring will be concentrated in five fields: medical and public health, security and protection, compliance and enforcement, legal, and program management.

But then, despite the millennial generation's commitment to public service, DeFreitas said he fears we will see an exodus from the public sector to the private.

"People may find it easier to pay off debts with a job that pays twice the salary in the private sector, leaving the public sector at a loss of a lot of good people."