In today’s economy, any assistance, especially from the government, is welcome. The economic consequences brought upon Americans by the spread of COVID-19 is most evident in the widespread closing of small business and the furloughing and termination of employees across a wide variety of industries, especially in hospitality and tourism. That is why I was welcoming of the Federal Government’s launch, in partnership with American Workforce Policy Advisory Board and the Ad Council, of the “Find Something New” campaign.
Find Something New encourages Americans to look at the changing landscape of employment opportunities, and challenges them to build new skills and gain new credentials to keep up with the rise of skill-based jobs. The campaign has been criticized as tone-deaf and unrealistic for most Americans negatively affected by the current state of the U.S. economy. While I agree that the campaign missed the mark with its timing, I believe in the concept that underpins its message—that Americans should have better access to and understanding of avenues that will broaden their skills and offer them new career paths. And I feel that to increase its success, the campaign should include, if not create, a secondary campaign to promote what the field of public service has to offer to Americans.
The message that “the nature of work is changing” is relevant, but the campaign’s focus, driven by the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, lies predominately in opportunities within the commercial sector. As detailed thoroughly in the report Inspired to Serve by the National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service, the Federal Government needs to champion skills-based learning and strengthen our citizenship through public service. It needs a formal board and campaign to promote the benefits that public service brings to people and society, rather than shareholders and investors.
Committing to public service, whether as an AmeriCorps volunteer in San Francisco, a finance coordinator at the Department of Justice, or an 0311 in the Marine Corps, still comes with the stigma of taking an “alternative” career path. Public service is much more than that, though. The opportunities that the federal and state governments provide span multiple industries and geographies: Cybersecurity? Check. Welding? Check. Nursing? Check. These jobs have current and future programmatic expansion goals, promising a wide range of work that can fit anyone from a high school graduate just starting out to someone late in their career who is looking for a change or a new opportunity. Many of these jobs are also structured to include benefits that help people to find their paths and build their skills while they are already in steady jobs, such as scholarship opportunities and competitive compensation that allows them to meet the cost of living in their area and start saving money for the future. And pension eligibility? Tell me more!
Instead of focusing on the commercial sector, the Find Something New campaign can pivot to serve itself and its citizens by focusing on the opportunities to serve our country through public service. Instead of offering the very popular but almost ubiquitous Apple CEO Tim Cook or Executive Chairman of IBM Ginni Rometty, the campaign could showcase amazing public service leaders like Major General Kevin Vereen of the U.S. Army Recruiting Command, who could discuss the recent medical and engineering support that Soldiers provide to hospitals and the scholarship opportunities offered by the Military to people who are looking to receive medical training. Or they could highlight Mr. Christopher Krebs, the first director of the innovative Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). He can speak to the increasing need for technologists to defend against cyber enemies; not just to safeguard personal information in the cloud, but to keep our election administration safe and country’s democracy secure.
To be clear—a call to public service is not a realistic one-to-one employment opportunity for replacing the number of lost jobs today. It’s rather a reminder that our government, as much as Amazon and JPMorgan Chase, needs highly skilled people to manage our healthcare systems, improve our environment, prepare communities for natural disasters, and keep our way of life secure. And it can potentially provide pathways to doing so that come at a much lower cost to the average job seeker than skills-based jobs in the commercial realm.
I look forward to the campaign launch of Find Something New: Public Service edition.