I live in Canada’s capital city, Ottawa which is where a large majority of civil servants also live and work. In some respects Ottawa is a little more like Washington than perhaps London, England, The government is the primary employer in both Ottawa and Washington, whereas London also has a strong private sector economy.
I have never worked for the government, but have worked for some very large organizations with their own bureaucracies that seem to be inherent in all large companies.
I wrote a blog entry some time ago about why government workers get a bad rap and thought it would make sense to balance out the score card a little.
We have three levels of government here in Canada, Federal, Provincial and municipal. The civil servants who work for these governments are tasked with implementing the policies and laws imposed by the politicians and law-makers. I have upon occasion been quite vocal about some political decisions … but that really doesn’t reflect on the civil servants who just implement the wishes of our politicians.
Having lived here for many years I know lots of people who work in government and guess what … they are just like everyone in the private sector.
> There are various levels of motivation, there are various levels of skill, there are various levels of commitment and drive … just like in private sector.
> There are different frustrations … government typically don’t go bankrupt, or need to worry about the bottom line. However companies don’t often have radical swings in corporate direction depending upon who is running the show.
> In private sector you can often get things done purely based on ROI, in government you have to demonstrate fairness to all suppliers, include all stakeholders and keep your political masters out of the press!
> In private sector if you have a great idea, run with it, implement it and make it successful then likely you will be financially rewarded, perhaps even with your own company. In government you will likely be rewarded with more responsibility!
> We like to think we work long hours in private sector and those government guys all go home early … I think the reality is that there are plenty of government workers who put in long hours and plenty of private sector workers who slack off.
> In private sector if we need to get rid of someone we can fire them, in government its “possible” but the pain is so acute that very few people get fired.
> In private sector we can act and make things happen quickly … the bureaucracy in government can make it very frustrating for people to make things happen quickly.
We NEED to have capable people in both public and private sector … and that’s exactly what we have. It would naive to think of government workers as in any way less capable than private sector workers … or vice versa. Each has a different environment and different challenges … the good people navigate to the top in either world.
Recently when talking to some people about potential careers, I have suggested that government could actually be a great career. There is plenty of opportunity with the coming “Baby Boomer” retirement wave, there is an appetite for change and government invests in its employees through training and career advancement.
Worth a thought if at this time of year you are one of the thousands of new graduates considering your options.