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Working in the Public Sector: Pros and Cons

August 23, 2021
A woman behind a reception desk greets a woman approaching the desk.

As with jobs in all industries, jobs in the public sector have certain advantages and disadvantages. While each person might have their own opinion of what constitutes a positive or negative aspect of any career, read on for our take on the pros and cons of working in the public sector.

Pros of Working in the Public Sector


Make a Difference in Your Community

The public sector includes any part of a state or national economy that is tied to public programs or services and is controlled by the government. That means your job could make a big impact on the lives of people in the community you live in whether through public programming or the built environment.

As a city manager or government program manager you could be in charge of working between local or federal government governments and their constituents. Similarly, social and community service managers are responsible for coordinating efforts to make the goals of an organization come to life within a community to support public well-being.1 Grant coordinators, chiefs of police and chief librarians are all additional public sector jobs that can make a big difference to their communities.

Another role for someone in the public sector, urban or regional planning, shapes the physical aspects of a defined area. Workers in this role often work between government officials, developers and the public to address short and long term needs. As an area grows or changes, planners help communities manage the related economic, social, and environmental issues, such as planning new parks, sheltering the homeless, and making the region more attractive to businesses.2

If you’re interested in working closely with a community to improve the programs, services and environments that contribute to the quality of life, consider pursuing a Master in Public Administration (MPA). If you’re interested in these sorts of roles you’ll especially want to make sure you choose an Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration (NASPAA) certified program that puts an emphasis on ethics in public service, like the MPA offered at Kent State.

Benefits and Work-Life Balance

One likely advantage you can get with a public sector job is a robust benefits package. Especially if you work for the government you might receive separate vacation and sick days, paid federal holidays, good health insurance and the opportunity to participate in government pension and retirement plans.3 All of these features contribute to a higher quality of life and with a job that’s capped at 40 hours a week, you’ll have the time to enjoy it.

Another benefit exclusive to some public service jobs is the opportunity for loan repayment. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a U.S. federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization.4

Job Security

If a job with stability is your biggest concern, a position in the public sector could be perfect for you. Jobs in the government aren’t subject to the ebb and flow of the market the way private sector businesses are. Because jobs in the government contribute to essential needs, they’re unlikely to face huge layoffs or become obsolete.

Additionally, the U.S. federal workforce is aging rapidly, with one third of employees eligible to retire by 2025.5 This could be a great time to find a job with the federal government, learn from senior leadership and be prepared to step up to take over when they leave the workforce.

Cons to Working in the Public Sector

Bureaucracy vs Innovation

Long lines and strict rules aren’t only found at the DMV. Many other internal-facing public sector jobs, for the government or with non-profit organizations, can be subject to expectations and guidelines that some will find restrictive. That culture is often due to public scrutiny of government spending of tax dollars or agency oversight of nonprofits receiving grants and other funding in support of their missions.

Further, some might feel that the public sector’s “this is how we’ve always done things” approach is a hindrance to their creativity, while others might find that structure to be helpful and that it relieves some of the stress of the job.

Tight Budgets

As touched on in the previous section, if you consider the organizations that make up the public sector: mainly governmental agencies and nonprofits, one struggle of working in the public sector might be clear to you: funding. When funding for projects comes from stakeholders, there’s a lot of pressure to act responsibly and make each dollar go far. This could come as a fun challenge to some workers and even push them to develop new skills and find more creative solutions rather than choosing an expensive, easy route.

Whether budgeting sounds like an exciting challenge or makes you nervous, an MPA program that includes finance courses will get you prepared to step up to budget management in the public sector.

Think a job in the public sector might be a good fit for you?

Check out Kent State's online MPA program to get a step up into your career path. Built for working professionals, the online format makes completing your degree surprisingly convenient, and its thoughtfully designed curriculum will engage and challenge you to make informed decisions as a civil servant. Contact an Admissions Advisor or start an application today.


Sources:
1. Retreived on July 15, 2021 from www.bls.gov/ooh/management/social-and-community-service-managers.htm#tab-2
2. Retrieved on July 15, 2021 from www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm#tab-2
3. Retrieved on July 15, 2021 from apa.org/gradpsych/2009/11/matters
4. Retrieved on July 15, 2021 from studentaid.gov/manage-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service
5. Retrieved on July 15, 2021 from brookings.edu/policy2020/votervital/public-service-and-the-federal-government/