Do you have what it takes to work in the field of public service?
Wanting to be helpful is one thing – we all feel the need to contribute to our neighborhoods, our schools and our world from time to time. But having the innate skills, talents and drive to make public service your career is something else. Here are some of the characteristics of someone well suited for the public service sector. Do they describe you?
- The energy of, well, the Energizer Bunny – Whether you’re organizing a fundraising dinner, or trying to find late-at-night housing for a displaced family of six, your day as a public servant won’t always be the nine-to-five kind. You may have to stay up late making phone calls. You may have to travel unexpectedly. You may be called back to the office in the middle of your weekend. If you thrive on a face-paced and changing environment, then this career path may just be for you.
- The skill set of MacGyver – Most of the jobs in the public service field require a wide range of skills – interpersonal, digital, and analytical. At a single position, you may be involved in counseling, recordkeeping, social media generating and compromise reaching, maybe even in the course of a single day! There’s no one skill that will get the job done every time, so you must truly be a Renaissance man – or woman.
- The legal mind of Clarence Darrow – Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, whether you’re coordinating a natural disaster preparedness plan, or trying to fund an inner-city daycare center, you will need a firm grasp of building codes, employment regulations, state and local statutes, and maybe even a few tax laws.
- The compassion of Pope Francis – The term “public service” describes the field quite accurately. You will literally be working to serve the public. And public means people. People in need of help after a natural disaster. People in need of protection from unscrupulous corporations. People in need of jobs or healthcare. Even people in need of fun. You will have to have the kind of personality that thrives while working with people of all kinds, and feels a deep, natural warm regard for them all.
- The mad money skills of Ebenezer Scrooge. A public-minded Ebenezer Scrooge, that is – In the field of public service, your duties might include helping a single mother balance her monthly budget, gather the documentation a non-profit needs to file for 501 tax-exempt status, or help a city manage its limited fiscal resources. The common denominator? A talent for handling money and all the record-keeping and rule-following that that entails.
The nuts and bolts of a public service degree program
We’ve already talked about the jobs available to someone with a public service degree. We’ve also covered the characteristics needed to thrive in the field. Another way to determine if public service is a good fit for you is to look at the kinds of classes you will be taking once you start your degree program.
Here is a brief overview of some of the coursework you can expect to take while earning your bachelor of arts in public service. Do they sound intriguing? Good! A degree in public service might just fit you like a glove.
- Introduction to public services – This type of class would typically cover how public service organizations in the government and the nonprofit arena fit into our society, and what important roles they play and needs they fill. In this type of class, students are often asked to explore their own value set and how that might fit into a public service career.
- The nonprofit organization – In this class, students would learn about the history of nonprofit organizations in the US, as well as how those organizations are typically funded, organized and run.
- Introduction to public administration – This type of class will include an introduction to both the history and the practice of public administration in the US, covering the local, state and national levels. Topics might include organizational theory, public policy making and human resource management.
- The ethics of public service – Any time human beings and their welfare are involved, ethics is an important issue. In this type of ethics class, topics might include how the field of public service can overlap international and political concerns, and will also examine a broad range of theories about the discipline of public service. The importance of maintaining the public’s trust within a representative democracy might also be covered.
- Public policy evaluation – In this type of class, the student will study how public policy is made, how it is assessed and who it is most likely to help. Individual public programs may be assessed during the process to help the student better understand how public programs fit into our complex social and political systems.
- Leadership in public organizations – This kind of class will typically address the characteristics of leadership in public organizations and how those characteristics may differ from those needed for business leadership. Some of the modern issues that revolve around our political process may also be covered, including the media and the Internet, and how they affect our election process and its outcomes.
But what about that job?
Earlier we mentioned that a career in public service provides the ideal opportunity to combine a passion for helping others with a worthwhile and well-paying job. While public service is too wide a field to examine every employment opportunity, here are some stats to back up that claim.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, community service managers can expect to earn nearly $64,000 a year. Job openings under that heading are growing at 10 percent a year – that’s higher than average. Fundraising and public relations managers can expect to earn more than $100,000 a year, with a seven percent projected growth rate. Management analysts can expect to earn just over $81,000 with an expected growth rate of 14 percent – much higher than average! While operations analysts can expect, on average, more than $78,000 and a robust growth rate of a whopping 30 percent!. And, all of these jobs, at the entry level, only require a bachelor degree.
But what about real jobs? In the real world?
Stats are one thing, you may be thinking, but real brick-and-mortar jobs that pay real dollars are something else. And you’re right. It’s good to be skeptical. Before you commit real time and real money to a degree program, you should know whether there will be real job openings waiting for you once you graduate.
A good place to do some research is on national job-posting sites. Go to a site like Monster, or Indeed, or CareerBuilder, and type in some of the job titles – or even job traits – we’ve already mentioned. Then add your location and see what comes up. At the time this article was written, here are some of the real jobs that were available to someone with a public service degree:
- PK Management, LLC, Denver, Colorado – Was looking to hire a service coordinator to work in the affordable housing arena.
- The City of Brighton, Brighton, Colorado – Was in need of a recreation facilities coordinator to assist with its recreation center’s daily operations.
- The City of Boulder, Boulder, Colorado – Needed to fill a well-being manager position in its human resources department.
- Larimer County, Fort Collins, Colorado – Wanted to hire a victim witness specialist to refer the victims of crimes to the appropriate community resources and law enforcement agencies.
- Public Consulting Group, Denver, Colorado – Was looking for a junior business analyst to aid in their work in public sector management consulting.
Now it’s your turn. Type in some search terms, the location that most appeals to you and hit the “enter” key. Depending on the search term you chose, and the breadth of your location parameters, hundreds – if not thousands – of jobs should appear.
Ready to get started?
If the information above has convinced you to start work on your bachelor of arts in public service, then it’s time to pick a program. Here are a few questions to ask yourself while making a selection.
- Is the program accredited? – If the answer to this question is “no,” then proceed no further. No unaccredited program will advance your career in any way.
- Does the program offer me the flexibility I need? – Many people today fall into the category of “non-traditional students.” This means they did not go straight to college after graduating from high school. They may have gotten a job first, or started a family. If this describes you, you want a program that offers you the most scheduling flexibility. The option to take online courses along with face-to-face classroom work, for example, will allow you to maximize your learning, while minimizing stress to your already-busy schedule.
- Who staffs these courses? – Today, many schools are offering online learning opportunities. That’s good news. However, sometimes the online classes being offered are staffed by a separate, adjunct faculty. That’s not an acceptable approach. If you picked a school because of the reputation of its teachers, you want those same high-quality teachers helping you whether you’re sitting in their classroom or taking a course online.