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Why Millennials Work for Government

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
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The next generation of government is here, with more and more Millennials moving into leadership roles. Do these young employees really have different career goals, management styles, and workplace expectations, as recent headlines would suggest? To gain more insight on this growing segment, The Public Manager recently spoke with four young leaders for the June 2017 issue: 

  • Michelle Rosa, program manager for Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division
  • Iris Alon, administrative specialist in the office of training and development at the Transportation Security Administration
  • Jonathan Ludwig, communication specialist for the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
  • Rebecca Rose, vice president of communications at the Export-Import Bank of the United States. 

To start the interview, we asked them why they choose to work in public service and to describe their career paths. Here’s what they had to say. (Check out the complete article to read the full interview.) 

Michelle Rosa

Michelle Rosa
I started to work as a federal contract right out of college and did that for about six years. After serving one of my customers as a contractor for more than two years, the opportunity to support a program within that organization presented itself, and for me it was a no brainer. I loved the work that I was doing, and I knew I wanted to serve in a more significant way. It was about feeling closer to the mission of the organization I was supporting and feeling like I could have a bigger impact as a civilian. The fact that my work has a direct impact to our warfighters and military community is truly invaluable.

Iris Alon

Iris Alon
By the time I was 30, I already had experience working for a Fortune 50 and a small business. I’ve also worked with a nonprofit organization and created my own company. The only sector missing was government. After much trial and error, I knew I wanted a career iwhere my end goal wasn’t just about making more money. It was important to me to give something back and to make an impact in what my mentor refers to as “a very altruistic” way. 

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My first career path started in operations management and then slowly geared more toward consulting and communications. After almost eight years building a comfortable career as an operations analyst, I got burnt out and decided to jump at a chance to try something completely different. I quit my corporate job, moved abroad to work as a consultant and operations manager for a small business, and then got into writing. It was then that I realized that as much as I enjoyed the opportunities and challenges presented to me by private industry, there was still something missing. And that’s when I decided to start a second career in public service. 

I’ve only been in government for a little over 18 months, but it feels like I truly found my calling. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing though because my expectations were totally different coming from the private sector. It was an adjustment, especially in the beginning, but nowadays, instead of getting frustrated when something doesn’t meet my expectations, I’ve learned to refocus my energy and leverage my experiences in the private sector instead to find solutions to problems in government.

Jonathan Ludwig

Jonathan Ludwig
I was drawn to work in public service originally because it offers such a wide range of unique and interesting types of jobs that are specific to the special functions and services that the government or military provides. For example, there is no equivalent job in the private sector to a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. During college, I majored in political science, and had my first experience as an intern at the Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons during the summer of 2015, in Washington D.C. 

This experience greatly expanded my view of the opportunities available in a public service career, and I also learned that public service offered a strong sense of purpose to my life in how I spend my energy and time at work. At the Department of State, we were working to combat modern slavery—an incredibly important mission, and we were working on it on behalf of the American public. This was inspiring to me—that Americans felt so strongly about this issue that we have a whole team of people working on it, and I got to be part of it. After that, I was hooked, and wanted to come back to Washington to work in public service once I graduated.

So in the summer of 2006, I decided to move up to Washington and found an internship opportunity at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The job mostly focused on education and training, as well as internal communications. I eventually gained more experience and moved into a project and program manager type role, then had the opportunity to complete a six-month rotation at the Department of Transportation (DOT) as a sustainability program specialist, through the little-known Office of Personnel Management (OPM) President’s Management Council (PMC) Interagency Rotation Program, which sends federal employees to complete rotations at a different federal agency. 

I recently obtained a new position as the strategic communications lead for a large national program at the VA, which has begun focusing more on communicating effectively both internally and externally. It’s a good time be working there—and of course, it has an incredibly powerful mission serving America’s Veterans.

Rebecca Rose

Rebecca Rose
I chose public service because as cliché as it sounds I wanted to make an impact. I’ve been in the federal government since the start of career as an HR assistant 10 years ago and have worked my way up to VP of Communications.  I have been at several agencies because I followed my interests ranging from law enforcement, finance, science and tech all the way to international trade now. I recommend young workers build a robust portfolio of experience to make themselves more marketable.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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