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DC or Silicon Valley: Why STEMM majors should work in federal government

September 16, 2014
It is no secret that government is losing the war for talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematical, and medical professions (STEMM). With a high demand for STEMM talent in all sectors and a short supply of people in these fields, competition for this talent pool is fierce. 

By Diamond Zambrano, C’15

In an analysis done by the Partnership for Public Service in partnership with the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 5.8 percent of STEMM students listed the federal government as their ideal career; however, within certain STEMM majors there were higher levels of interest. For example, students studying environmental science (15 percent) and computer or information science (9.4 percent) were among the most likely to list federal government as their ideal career (The Partnership for Public Service, 2014). The low level of interest among college students in STEMM majors paints a bleak future for addressing issues in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine for our country. 

The low number of STEMM students entering the federal service after graduation can be attributed to a number of factors. One of which includes the government’s struggle to meet the salary expectations of students in STEMM majors. 46 percent of STEMM majors expected to earn more than $55,000 as a starting salary; however, students with undergraduate degrees in the D.C. area working in federal government can only expect to earn between $32,415 and $42,631 (The Partnership for Public Service, 2014). In addition, the federal government is known for its slow hiring process. It takes 100 days on average to hire an IT specialist. (The Partnership for Public Service & Booz Allen Hamilton, 2013). With tech companies and the private sector offering seniors and graduate students an easy application and interview process through recruiting efforts like on campus recruiting, the ease of the application process of other sectors sometimes means top talent is swept up by the those who have more flexibility when it comes to hiring. In addition, there is a general lack of knowledge of the range opportunities available for students within the government. Although many believe that working in government is only for political science majors, over 28.4 percent of federal employees government wide work in STEMM professions.  (The Partnership for Public Service & Booz Allen Hamilton, 2013)

The Impact of STEMM Hiring

What is at stake is more than just the government lacking talent in STEMM professions, but the effectiveness of our government, which in turn has an impact on the lives of all Americans. Recent events are a testament to how crucial recruiting STEMM talent is for the government. The recent VA scandal was largely a product of a shortage of physicians. The glitches in the federal health care website perhaps could have been avoided if the right people were in government. In addition, the current shortage of cyber security professionals within the government creates risks for national security.  Although these issues have multiple layers to them, they all have one thing in common – a need for STEMM professionals in federal government. 

As emphasized in the Biggest Bang Theory, a report on STEMM hiring by the Partnership for Public Service & Booz, Allen, Hamilton, although “federal agencies cannot compete with companies on salary or work place intangibles like free food, Ping-Pong, or a T-shits and Shorts culture, the federal government can provide employees with opportunities other employers cannot match” (The Partnership for Public Service & Booz Allen Hamilton, 2013). Federal government gives its employees the opportunity to make millions of people’s lives better, whether that is through using finance skills to help develop an innovative loan guarantee system in developing countries or utilizing knowledge of physics to develop innovative medical imaging technology to foster better health care.  Without students exploring and seriously considering the various options available within federal government before setting their sights on Google, Facebook, or some tech startup in Silicon Valley, the federal government will continue to lag behind in STEMM professions and the effectiveness and quality of our government will deteriorate. 

 

References:

The Partnership for Public Service & Booz Allen Hamilton. (2013). The Biggest Bang Theory: How to get the most out of the competitive seach for STEMM talent. Washington D.C.: The Partnership for Public Service.

The Partnership for Public Service. (2014). College Students are Attracted to Federal Service, but Agencies neet capatalize on their interest. Washington D.C.: The Partnership for Public Service.

 

 

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