Despite the Great Recession that impacted the global economy in 2007–2009, the public sector has remained a bright spot in many regions around the world. Jason Lum, JD, MPP, a Walden University School of Public Policy and Administration faculty member, notes that government has been one of the few growth areas for hiring. A former government employee himself, Dr. Lum offers insights into opportunities and pathways in public service careers.
Why consider a public sector career?
Government can be an enormously rewarding place to work. Employees have job protections not found in the private sector, so it’s stable work. You also have opportunities to play a key role in social change. In the U.S., if you want to effect change as an aid worker, there’s USAID (United States Agency for International Development). If you want to help starving communities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs focus on this need. Globally, the military does a lot of humanitarian work. When you work in public service—which encompasses government at all levels as well as nonprofit work—you can impact not only your own country, but also the entire world.
What career opportunities are available to someone interested in public service?
There’s an agency for every discipline. Someone with a degree in psychology can work in a government hospital. With a health-related degree, there are opportunities in the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture. In the School of Public Policy and Administration, a lot of our graduates work in emergency management and national security in countries around the world. There are so many different pathways.
What skills and knowledge are critical for someone interested in becoming a successful public servant?
Successful public servants need the ability to write and multitask. Another skill that agencies look for is time management. Walden graduates develop these skills as they are expected to write constantly and deliver cogent and succinct postings and papers that evidence critical thinking, while often managing family and work responsibilities. I tell my students to emphasize what they’ve done and explain how it provides value. Agencies are more interested in critical thinking skills as demonstrated through writing than whether someone understands the intricacies of policy or the World Trade Organization.
How might people benefit from an advanced degree to support their career goals as a public servant?
In the public sector, having an advanced degree helps gain promotional and bonus opportunities. Any graduate program at Walden would qualify someone to go into the public sector, whether it’s psychology or education or business, but the School of Public Policy and Administration would be the first place I’d look. Our students can carve their own paths by working with faculty aligned with what they want to do. We also help create policy generalists who can work in a wide range of positions and roles because that’s what government wants.
How can someone enhance the role, prestige, and visibility of public service?
There are countless ways. For example, you can become a legislative assistant to a member of Congress and make immediate change by reading and summarizing proposed legislation and creating the contours of the argument for or against it. In this role, you have enormous power to influence how a legislator will vote. In local government, you have contact with constituents at council meetings and in your everyday work. Nonprofit organizations are also playing an increasing role in public policy. The size and scope of government creates millions of ways to have impact. The average American tends to focus on Congress and the president, but the people who have the tremendous responsibility of implementing laws and enforcing regulations in this country are career public servants.
Broaden your perspective on public service and find out more about Walden’s public policy and administration degrees today.