Only 34 percent of Harvard University's public policy graduates took public sector jobs last year. That's a signal that government agencies and academic institutions need to do more to fight the public sector's negative image, according to a new report from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Endowment for the Business of Government. For the study, "Winning the Best and Brightest: Increasing the Attraction to Public Service," Carol Chetkovich, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, surveyed public policy students from Harvard and the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California. "For so many of them to shun government employment--at a time when the public-sector talent pool, particularly at the federal level, is diminishing--raises concerns about the future of government and questions about the role of institutions designed to train public leaders," Chetkovich concluded. Chetkovich's research comes at a critical time in the federal government. Nearly one-third of the federal workforce will be eligible for retirement in the next five years. In January, the General Accounting Office added human capital issues to its high-risk list, designating it as one of the federal government's biggest management challenges. Chetkovich found that most public policy students don't enter their programs planning for private sector careers, but that often the first year of coursework can sour students on the public sector experience. "Comments revealed a particularly strong curiosity about and admiration for the private sector that was at times coupled with a troubling disdain for government," the report said. The large debts many students pile up also made them more mindful of the differences in public and private sector compensation. Students believed that making a transition from a private sector job to the public sector is easier than the other way around, and that the opportunities for professional development are more abundant in the private sector than in government. "For the most part, they believe their private sector employment will be short-term, and that it will allow them to enter public or nonprofit work with enhanced skills, greater credibility and better financial security," Chetkovich found. Chetkovich made several recommendations for turning the situation around, such as aggressively promoting public sector careers and closing the salary gap between government and industry, including offering incentives such as student loan repayments. She also recommended that agencies and academic institutions work together to make the entry into government service easier for students by stepping up recruitment efforts. "New graduates are not necessarily aspiring to decision-making roles, but they are looking for positions in which they can think about programs and or policy, offer advice that will be taken into account, and feel that they are making a contribution," Chetkovich said.
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