by Elaine Sullivan (SF2011)
Spend half an hour on the City Hall Fellows webpage, and you will come across these numbers:
· more than 1/3 of this country’s government
workforce will retire in the next decade
· more than 80% of college graduates have no
interest in working in government
· 13% of professional local government managers
today are under 40, while in the early 1970s nearly 71% were 40 or younger.
Obviously, the government workforce is aging. The current worry about pensions is one consequence of this fact; another is one that I did not expect: for a
twenty-three year-old, working in government is a lonely job.
I first noticed how distant I felt from those who have desks around me when I couldn’t chime in with my own mommy joke. I have no idea of what it’s like to get 6
year olds out the door in the morning, or what the morning drop-off line gossip
is like these days. I do slightly better
when the topic is weekend soccer tournaments that my coworkers complain about
driving their children to (they can be up to three hours away) – but only
because I remember playing in those tournaments, less than 10 years ago.
Logic dictates that the majority of people in the workforce are over the age of 30. When you’re the
only person on your floor born in the 1980’s, that logic becomes reality.
I clearly learned a lot from this situation. As my boss was trying to decide on what Halloween costume to get for her kid while between conference calls with
policy-makers and talking to me about my project, she joked, “this is the life
of a working mom!” Growing up, a kid has
a vague idea of what his or her parents are doing, but until that kid enters
the workforce, the life of a working parent remains a vague idea. As a Fellow, I worked in an environment where
that “vague idea” is a norm, and I saw what it takes to leave work early to
pick up a child, or to use sick days to care for a sick family member.
When I mentioned this observation to another government worker, he replied with his own example.
The youngest person in his division is in her 30’s. She was hired right out of grad school, a
young idealist excited to work for government.
A month after she was hired, the agency had a hiring freeze – which
lasted for 10 years. She remained the
youngest person in her division for a decade.
This example reflects what I’ve noticed most about government hiring and firing. First,
government isn’t really hiring. Any
growth in the government workforce faces public scrutiny. San Francisco seems unusual in that it can
add jobs here and there, though there are waiting lists a hundred people long,
and it can take over 6 months from the initial application until one is hired. Second, government doesn’t have the
flexibility to hire and fire like the private sector. The way most government jobs are vacated is
through “natural attrition.” Because
people in government jobs are often reluctant to leave, there isn’t much room
for those of us in our 20s.
I can say with surety that if it were not for City Hall Fellows, I would not have applied to work in government. As a senior in college, most of my peers were attending job fairs and waiting in line for hours to interview with consulting
firms and banks. If government was
considered at all, it was on the federal level.
I knew I wanted to go home, and also work for people, and not for a
corporation. Luckily, I applied to City Hall Fellows and got accepted.
I wish this were possible for many other students like me, and I wish other cities across the country could tap into the young talent that
has recently finished college. City Hall Fellows allows for cities to tap into this talent, but the program has just
started. I can only hope for its
expansion to extend opportunity to both recent graduates and city