In honor of Independence Day this month, this blog post is the first in a weekly series throughout July examining opportunities in different sectors of America’s diverse economy.  

The Lincoln Memorial by night, with the Washington Monument and U.S. Capitol in the background.

Washington, D.C., may be the hub of public employment in the U.S., but positions are available in all 50 states and overseas. Image from Pixabay.

Including local and state governments and federal agencies, more than 20 million Americans work in the public sector in jobs ranging from law enforcement agents to museum curators. While hard-hit by the Great Recession and subsequent decline in local government revenues, there are still thousands of jobs available.

“Thanks for your service. What you do is important. It matters. You defend our country overseas, you deliver benefits to our troops who earned them when they come home, you guard our borders, you protect our civil rights, you help businesses grow and gain footholds in overseas markets. You protect the air we breathe, and the water our children drink, and you push the boundaries of science and space, and you guide hundreds of thousands of people each day through the glories of this country.” That’s the tribute President Barack Obama paid to the nation’s millions of government employees in his remarks on the reopening of the federal government following the government shutdown in 2013.

The U.S. public sector has come a long way from the handful of administrators who helped form today’s Cabinet-level agencies under the George Washington presidency. Today, more than 20 million Americans work in the public sector, but the majority do not work for the federal government. Instead, they are employed by the individual state governments or the nearly 40,000 municipal governments across the nation.

Beyond the Great Recession

Public sector employment took a big hit during the Great Recession, arguing against the conventional wisdom that government jobs are insulated from the economic cycle. The ratio of government employment to population fell to its lowest level since the 1980s. Today, the public sector is growing again, with 2015 being the first year of the decade in which government spending has contributed to GDP growth as state and local governments have led the way.

Top Careers in Local Government and How to Find  Them

State and local governments are expected to hire more than 1.4 million new workers over the next decade, at least in part due to baby boomer retirements.

Among the fastest-growing jobs are lawyers, criminal investigators and detectives, accountants and auditors, correctional officers, computer specialists, EMS dispatchers, waste-management operators, firefighters, library technicians, and urban planners.

Internships are a great way to explore local government employment. Many local positions are advertised to Cal State Fullerton students through the Career Center tab of the student portal. Opportunities across the nation and even overseas can be found through the International City-County Management Association, which provides occupational tools and job listings through its Career Network. Orange County jobs are listed on the county’s Human Resources website.

A group of cranes undertaking a major public works project.

Public works construction projects is a major component of public sector employment. Photo from Pixabay.

California State Careers

About 227,000 people work for the State of California in full- and part-time jobs, and after years of budget cuts, the state is actively looking to fill vacancies. With 40% of state employees eligible to retire, there is a demand for younger workers.

State jobs range from park ranger positions at California’s 118 state parks to faculty and staff positions in the largest network of higher education institutions in the world, including the California State University (CSU) system, the University of California (UC) system and California’s 113 community colleges.

To search for state jobs, visit the California State Jobs website. As part of the merit-based civil service system, applicants must first pass exams, some of which are available online, before being eligible for hiring.

Federal Jobs – They Aren’t All in D.C.

With 2.7 million employees, the federal government is the nation’s largest employer, comprising 2% of the nation’s workforce. While federal employment makes up 27.4% of the workforce in the District of Columbia, by far the highest percentage in the nation, the vast majority of employees live in other parts of the country. California has 245,000 federal employees.

The federal government is an incredibly diverse entity, including defense positions, the National Park Service, regulatory bodies, law enforcement, overseas diplomatic posts and scientific positions with agencies such as NASA or the National Weather Service. The training and experience required for these roles is understandably diverse as well.

According to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the federal government’s human resources department, the fastest-growing federal jobs include human resources, homeland security, information technology, engineering, health care, accounting, public affairs, biological sciences, intelligence, and public policy positions.

Applicants for federal jobs can visit USAJobs.gov, which posts positions across a wide selection of federal agencies.

Cal State Fullerton D.C. Program

Over the past decade, more than 400 Cal State Fullerton students have gained career experience and academic development through the Cal State D.C. Program, which offers semester-long internship and academic coursework for students of all majors in the Washington, D.C., area. Students gain academic credit through courses taught by Cal State Fullerton faculty, while intern opportunities vary from federal agencies to nonprofits and political action committees.

Applications for spring and summer 2017 will soon be available online.

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