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The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.
By Linda Kiltz
July 28, 2015
Recent master of public administration (MPA) graduates are in a positive job market and, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of state and local government jobs is predicted to increase by 1.4 million over the next 10 years. While federal government employment is expected to decrease due to budget constraints, there will continue to be job openings as baby boomers retire. With 21 million people currently working at the local, state and national levels, and about 500,000 expected to retire in the coming years, the public services industry is one of the largest and most stable employment sectors in the United States.
Skills and Expertise
MPA graduates possess unique skills that are utilized at all levels of local and national government, and the expanding nonprofit sector.
MPA students are taught not only constitutional and administrative law, but also leadership theories and practices. They possess advanced knowledge on topics such as human resources management, public financing and budgeting, policy analysis and strategic planning. They are skilled at analyzing and synthesizing research reports and are discerning readers and experts in critical thinking.
Many programs have internationalized their curriculum, which enables MPA students to be aware of global issues and how the connection and interdependency of those systems affect our nation. This global knowledge provides students with the ability to strategically examine complex issues and identify opportunities to enhance productivity within an agency or organization.
All of these skills help prepare MPA graduates to hold leadership positions locally and nationally. So, what can you do to tap into this wealth of opportunity with your MPA?
Where the Jobs Are
While some states are stronger economically than others, MPA graduates are in demand nationwide. Larger metropolitan areas typically have the most job openings and more competitive pay because they service the most people. However, medium-sized cities and towns should not be discounted, as turnover occurs everywhere—particularly due to retirement.
Within the federal government, the largest agencies often have the most job openings in a given year, including the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. However, while the application process has become more efficient, it is generally longer than that for state and local government.
With all of these opportunities, many wonder whether it’s preferable to be a generalist or specialist. In today’s economy, people are changing jobs every three to five years. Having a generalist MPA allows more flexibility to meet employers’ needs. You can always specialize through on‐the‐job training, but being a generalist will position you for more opportunities from the start.
Networking and Resources Not to Be Overlooked
Networking is crucial to any job search. Several specific resources should be utilized when starting your job search with an MPA:
Universities’ career services departments are invaluable at identifying job opportunities, assisting with résumés and cover letters and prioritizing the types of positions for which you are best suited. They can often connect you with faculty members or MPA graduates who can serve as mentors and provide you with valuable insight into the hiring process.
Résumés are no longer simply a piece of paper. To give yourself a competitive edge, consider using software to build an electronic portfolio, which can provide a collection of work to showcase your talent and skills.
Be sure to utilize social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, and join public affairs organizations to make connections with individuals in your desired geographic location or area of specialization. To gain the most from these organizations, become active and engaged. Consider joining committees to network and demonstrate your knowledge.
You need to be your own advocate and promote your accomplishments and the skills you acquired in your MPA program. If you are currently in the public sector, make your supervisor aware that you earned an MPA and ask him or her to update your employee development plan. Before graduation, consider asking for a stretch assignment or requesting to lead a project that helps you demonstrate your newly acquired skills.
Go For It
An MPA is beneficial, if not required, for many leadership roles in the federal, state and local governments, as well as at nonprofit organizations. With the skills and knowledge that go hand-in-hand with your new degree, coupled with the right use of resources and networking, you are positioning yourself to excel in the largest employment sector in the U.S.
Author: Linda Kiltz, Ph.D., is program director for the Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Policy and Master in Nonprofit Management and Leadership programs at Walden University. Dr. Kiltz is an experienced educator, author and consultant with expertise in public administration, emergency management and homeland security. She can be reached at [email protected].