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An MPA/MPP Still Matters in the Workplace

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Raun Lazier
July 24, 2015

Public, private and nonprofit leaders recognize that certain skills are needed to address the pressing issues of the day. Complex and large scale challenges—from improving education and workforce development, to reducing poverty and protecting the nation from cyberattacks—requires critical thinkers, problem-solvers, managers and collaborators that can operate and leverage resources at all organizational levels and across all sectors.

New and midcareer professionals with a master’s in public administration (MPA) or master’s in public policy degree (MPP) are uniquely positioned to address these challenges. They learn technical skills that help to enhance much needed (1) critical thinking, (2) problem-solving and (3) management abilities.

First, coursework in areas such as policy analysis, planning and management help to develop the skills and techniques used by leaders to implement policies, projects and programs that resolve important problems within their organizations and the communities they serve.

Second, training in areas such as program evaluation, research and analysis develops skills needed to analyze, evaluate and solve all aspects of policy as well as work with quantitative and qualitative data to develop, assess and evaluate alternative approaches to current and emerging issues.

Third, management courses, capstone projects and internships that MPA and MPP programs offer allow these professionals opportunities to apply theory to practice, especially in the area of resource allocation. This is a critical skill to have because policies, plans and programs are meaningless if you cannot obtain and allocate the resources needed to ensure successful implementation and management. The importance of this skill is highlighted by the fact in FY 15 the U.S. government awarded $250 billion in contracts and $380 billion in grants, according to USAspending.gov.

These professionals also acquire soft skills needed to work collaboratively and navigate politically sensitive environments. MPA/MPP programs provide their graduates with unique skills sets on partnership development and network management, which enables them to utilize resources from diverse sources to advance a mission, strategic goal or program. Furthermore, through internships and capstone seminars (some of which can involve consulting projects for public sector organizations), these programs directly and indirectly teach graduates how to communicate and network in various formal and informal workplace environments. These skills have served me well throughout my career in local and federal government as well as the nonprofit sector.

For new and midcareer professionals entering new or familiar workplaces, advancing in their careers and addressing the myriad global challenges that exist in our society, I offer the following three pieces of career advice for consideration.

Don’t expect to immediately jump to the top of your career field or pay scale without first proving yourself. If you are at the beginning of your career or starting over, you need to develop a reputation for excellence and establish the trust and confidence of your employer before you can expect to advance in pay and status. You should also understand that everyone brings unique skills and abilities to a job. And no two jobs are exactly alike.

These variations can affect pay for jobs within the same occupation. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, some specific factors that can account for variations in pay are credentials, experience and skill, industry and employer, job tasks, geographic location and level of success and performance. Overall, do not be scared to sacrifice now to position yourself for the future.

Develop and maintain a global mindset. Individuals who possess a global mindset are able to view situations from a variety of perspectives, partner with individuals from different contexts and identify promising routes to successful collaboration. Bettina Buechel, in the article titled “Developing a Global Mindset: The Five Keys to Success,” wrote that individuals who develops this attribute are able support their organizations in:

(1)   Identifying emerging opportunities early on.

(2)   Developing greater sophistication and a more fine-grained analysis of the trade-offs between local adaption and global standardization.

(3)   Facilitating efficient sharing of best practices across organizational boundaries.

(4)   Coordinating complementary activities across organizational boundaries.

Lifelong learning is the cornerstone of career success. An individual will not be able to successfully meet workplace challenges unless he or she becomes a lifelong learner. The complexity and fast pace of change requires us to constantly adapt by acquiring new skills that enable us to effectively function within and across different environments. Moreover, advancing your technical abilities, leadership skills and emotional intelligence can make you more valuable to your organization. This can lead to greater professional accomplishments and career advancement.

Another benefit is that being a lifelong learning will make you a more sophisticated and engaging person that people will value, respect and want to work with. Some ways to facilitate lifelong learning is to join a professional organization (such as ASPA), develop your own networks, attend conferences, leverage training opportunities, sign up for new and challenging assignments, travel as much as you can and stay on top of current events by reading and engaging with experts in your field of study.

In today’s inter-connected world, professionals with an MPA/MPP are needed in the workplace more than ever before!

Author: Raun Lazier, a policy director in the federal government, has 15+ years of public service in local government, nonprofit sector, and the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. He is a board member of two nonprofit organizations focused on public policy and executive leadership. He received his MPA and MSW from the University of Pittsburgh. Email at [email protected].

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