Local government has all the elements a young person yearns for in a profession. The work you do is rewarding and immediate, the people you meet are bright and accomplished, and the communities you work in are strong, vibrant and itching for fresh blood to contribute to them.
According to the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, the average age of a UNC MPA program student is 30. The Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s average MPA student is 28. With the competition among both top-notch MPA and MBA programs in the United States at an all-time high, is there a place for young grads seeking to start their career? How does one get started when the job market is extra competitive and senior management roles are largely filled? Additionally, how does one secure a mentor that will serve as a professional and personal compass?
The answers aren’t always clear but there are definitely resources to help young people navigate this difficult profession. One avenue for seeking mentorship and career advice I have found extremely helpful is through a membership to the International City/County Management Association (ICMA). The ICMA is the leading city and county management organization internationally which provides free webinars, job postings and other important resources for professionals in all levels of local government administration.
Probably the most important feature for members, especially younger entrants to the profession, is access to the Knowledge Network. The Knowledge Network is the unofficial database of ICMA journals, case studies, blogs and other communications. You can ask a question about an issue you may be working on in your jurisdiction and you will receive many answers from across the country from experts in that subject matter. When you create a profile of your own on the ICMA website, you can indicate what subject areas you are interested in as well as those you have expertise in. By providing information about yourself, you are instantly matched up with thousands of other professionals in the field who share your passion. That kind of networking is powerful.
In addition to the Knowledge Network, membership to ICMA also provides individuals the opportunity to attend the annual ICMA conference. Hosted in a different city and county every year, it is the ideal avenue to learn about what other cities and counties are doing as well as attend mixers and other networking events to meet city and county managers. The familial-like bond among conference attendees showcases one of the best parts about local government administration – the people who are in this field truly want to bring in others to the profession and take mentorship seriously.
In addition to being a member of ICMA, members are also given membership to the Alliance for Innovation, a network of progressive government and partners working to transform local government through innovative practices. Some of the industry’s newest best practices are shared among Alliance members. For governments interested in attracting young, fresh perspectives to local government administration, keeping abreast of creative techniques and tools for service delivery is vital. After all, the new generation of leaders entering local government is poised to step up once those currently in leadership retire or move on to new career moves.
Another organization young professionals should consider joining and taking advantage of is Emerging Local Government Leaders (ELGL). This up-and-coming group was specifically set up to help expand local government professionals’ network and provide them with guidance to be successful. Serving on one of their organizations’ committees will help you meet other young folk in local government, as well as share best practices. ELGL hosts webinars, mixers and an annual conference throughout the year and there are lots of opportunities to get involved and learn from others in your field. Meeting others in the profession also allows you to build long lasting friendships and professional relationships.
By joining organizations like ICMA, Alliance for Innovation and Emerging Local Government Leaders, young professionals remain relevant and present in the local government profession. Additionally, the opportunities to apply for competitive jobs and find mentors who will help them move forward in their career.