By Matthew Taylor
On Friday afternoon, a group of civic leaders who hold positions in local governments across the country came to Willamette for the first ever to host an event called “Inspiring Local Government Careers”, hosted by the advocacy group Engaging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). The event, which ran for nearly five hours, was attended by approximately 50 students and 20 speakers.
The speakers, all local government officials, represented cities from Salem to Durham, North Carolina and worked in fields ranging from finance, to fire and rescue, to parks and recreation. All, however, stressed the importance and fulfillment of careers in local governments.
“These are high paying jobs,” said ELGL’s Director of Government Affairs Randy Ealy, “and they’re making a difference in lives.”
According to their website, ELGL is “a big tent professional association full of innovative local government leaders with a passion for connecting, communicating and educating.” By promoting public service on a local level, the organization aims to strengthen these institutions, improving their stature and effectiveness.
Part of this attempt is outreach programs such as the one held on Friday, focused on recruiting talent and inspiring students to pursue jobs in these traditionally undervalued careers. This was the organization’s first outreach attempt on a university level, though it plans to continue efforts on other campuses with similar events.
Throughout the U.S., there is a perception that careers in the private sector are more lucrative, fulfilling, and generally better paying than careers in the public sector, especially those on a local level. This is a issue that many ELGL speakers acknowledged, and countered with personal experience.
One common theme expressed by speakers was the fulfillment and they have experienced in their careers in local government, especially when compared to their previous jobs in the private sector.
One reason for this is that the smaller scale of work done in local government allows for greater personal impact. “I have pride in saying I work for the city, making lives better,” said one speaker.
“The little actors make a large impact,” said another, “every day matters.”
Another notion commonly expressed by the speakers was their love for the dynamic nature of their jobs. Because local government is usually small and responsible for providing such a wide breadth of services, workers in these institutions are not limited to a single job. Rather, they often find themselves responsible for a wide variety of tasks.
“Our jobs change hour by hour, day by day” said Madison Thesing, a Management Fellow from Hillsboro and Willamette alumni.
In an era when federal and state governments seem increasingly inept and riddled with issues, careers in local government provide a unique opportunity for young people to gain employment while having their voices heard. The ability of local government to provide meaningful, fulfilling jobs could make careers on this level a growing reality for many young Americans.