Decreasing revenue streams and budget shortfalls have led to hiring freezes, unpaid furloughs, and in many cases, layoffs of state and local government employees across the country. And while the private sector is feeling its own brand of pain, the recession has placed public sector employment in a precarious position.
However, the news isn’t all doom and gloom. In a recent interview with MuniNetGuide.com, Mark Weinberg, Chief Operational Officer for CareersinGovernment.com (CIG), a leading resource for public sector employment, painted the glass half full: “The current crisis is expected to prompt widespread reform in government financing and budget management,” he said, as he shared his insights on the current state of public sector employment with us.
MuniNet: From your vantage point, have you witnessed a marked decrease in hiring by state and local governments/government agencies over the past year to 18 months?
Weinberg: State and local government recruitments and hires do appear to have dropped off noticeably in recent months. This decline corresponds with recent survey results from the National League of Cities, which reported that nearly two-thirds of the nation’s cities planned hiring freezes or layoffs in 2009 and beyond to counter the impact on their budgets of the country’s worst economic recession since the Great Depression.
Public sector agencies are keenly aware that the full weight of income, property and sales tax declines may not be felt until the end of 2012. Most often they are responding by boosting revenues through service fee increases and cutting General Fund-financed public works projects. However controlling personnel expenditures-spiraling upwards due to increasing pension, health care and wage costs-must be an essential component of their recovery.
MuniNet: … And going forward?
Weinberg: How the present economic crisis will affect the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ projected 8% growth in state and local government jobs between 2006 and 2016 is unknown. The current crisis is expected to prompt widespread reform in government financing and budget management.
Public safety and public health employment will continue to be priority areas for retaining and expanding employment, while the struggle for library, parks and social service program funding will likely intensify. In this context, public sector employers will need to address a myriad of employment-related issues such as the aging workforce, the retention of younger workers, an increase in the immigrant population, and competition from the private sector.
MuniNet: Would you say there are more – or fewer – individuals seeking public sector employment compared to a year ago? What is the mindset or mood among job seekers?
Weinberg: CareersInGovernment.com instructs candidates to apply for jobs directly to the respective hiring agencies so data on application volume is not generally available to us. However, the board maintains a job seeker resume bank, which has grown by 15% over the past several months. Additionally, some government agencies are declining to post select entry-level jobs, citing sufficient local interest and a desire to not be over inundated with applications.
Job seekers accustomed to perceiving public sector employment, wages and benefits favorably have had their enthusiasm and optimism tempered by the economic crisis, but not destroyed.
The notion of locking into a government job for life has been shaken, but employment security is still viewed as being less volatile than in the private sector. Pension, health care and other benefits, though the subject of widespread calls for reform, is still a strong draw. Finally, government job seekers see today’s political and economic climate as an ideal, and perhaps unique, opportunity to make a difference in American community life.
MuniNet: With budget shortfalls exerting pressure on state and local governments – and increasing layoffs and unemployment across most sectors – is the public sector facing greater and/or different employment challenges than the private sector?
Weinberg: Certainly the challenges are different. Unlike the private sector, state and local governments have the power and duty to create public policy which can help stimulate economic growth, job creation, and general recovery-though they must surely look to the federal government to help facilitate these goals. There are, however, broad market forces that are less dependent on government actions, and state and local governments can find themselves reduced to spectators hoping for the best possible outcomes. When forced to be reactionary, governments are at a distinct disadvantage because of the temporal “gap” between regional and local economic events and their effects on public coffers.
“… government job seekers see today’s political and economic climate as an ideal, and perhaps unique, opportunity to make a difference in American community life.”
In the private sector, reduced demand for goods and services are countered through less production. Business revenues decline but operating costs can be reduced commensurately until the market rebounds.
Contrast this with state and local government services such as public safety, social services and health care, which typically are in greater demand when the economy is in freefall and revenues plummet. The challenge of how to sustain or restore services is complicated by political considerations, restrictive civil service practices and labor agreements, government’s poor record of operational efficiency, and its history of being ill-prepared to ramp up or down service delivery and labor force size.
MuniNet: What strategies are governments taking to offset personnel budget challenges? Obviously, furloughs have made headlines in many places across the country; is this becoming pretty commonplace?
Weinberg: Increased wages and benefits, as well as labor force growth, in recent decades have resulted in personnel costs consuming a lion’s share of today’s state and local government budgets. Popular efforts to reduce labor costs have included: hiring freezes; wage and benefit package reductions; unpaid furloughs; and layoffs.
In August of this year, the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government reported that 20 states have already imposed furloughs. Similarly, the National League of Cities’ 2009 Fiscal Conditions survey reveals that 62% of respondents anticipated being forced to implement one or more of the above strategies this year or next. Other strategies being employed include outsourcing, downgrading full-time jobs to part-time work, job-sharing, and combining job duties.
MuniNet: Have you seen privatization exert any significant effect on public sector employment?
Weinberg: Privatization of services, as well as public-private partnerships and other service delivery models, have gained in popularity during the last 25 years, with mixed results. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that outsourcing of government jobs to the private sector will constrain state and local government employment, but does not speculate on the extent of the impact. Notwithstanding an increase in privatization, growth in government during the past 20 years has been very robust. It may, however, account for a portion of the disparity in government’s projected 8% job growth between 2006 and 2016, compared with 11% in the private sector.
The largest factors affecting state and local government employment may still well be population growth and the health of underlying economies that produce government revenues.
About the Expert:
Mark F. Weinberg is currently the Chief Operational Officer for CareersInGovernment.com (CIG). CIG, established in 1996, is a feature-rich online job board dedicated exclusively to the public sector which has posted scores of jobs for all 50 states and over 4,000 counties, cities and special districts nationwide.
Careers In Government combines today’s powerful Internet search technology with a wealth of recruitment, selection and practical job information pertaining to the public sector.
Mr. Weinberg also has 35 years of experience in local government and has served as City Manager in both large and mid-sized cities in California and Washington State.
NEW_SECTIONTop Tips for Finding a Public Sector JobEND_SUPP_HDR
Unlike some jobs which may be created and filled quietly in the private sector, all government jobs are announced and most are actively advertised. How can you improve your chances of finding – and getting – a job in state and local government?
Mark Weinberg, of CareersinGovernment.com offers the following tips for job seekers in today’s public sector marketpace:
- Find opportunities on: respective agency websites; league and professional association websites and publications; and on convenient public sector Internet job clearinghouses such as CareersInGovernment.com and USAJobs.com (federal jobs).
- Don’t overlook volunteer work and internships as potential career gateways.
- Keep your resume brief – ideally, two pages. The goal of your resume should be to create sufficient interest to garner an interview invitation.
- Include a transmittal letter with your error-free job application and resume. In clear language emphasize recent significant achievements pertinent to the job you are seeking, along with a history of employment stability and career advancement.
- At the interview, be prepared to verbalize what inspires you to pursue a career in the public versus the private sector. What it is about your personal philosophy, personality, ambitions and general outlook on life that attracts you to serving others? Your answer should reflect your understanding of the unique differences between public service and “for-profit” careers, as well as the environments in which they operate.
- Know about the job you are seeking beyond just the title, duties and responsibilities. What impact does this job have on enhancing community life, on either a global or neighborhood level? What are the current and future trends for your chosen occupation? Where does the funding come from to support the services your job provides?
- Become familiar with the organization’s service population, culture, history, mission, motto and principal goals. How can you convincingly say you want to work for City “A” if you do not have a clue as to how it is different from City “B” across town?