Op-ed | Dear Class of 2022: Start your career in government

Graduates in graduation ceremony
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Our nation is in crisis. Solving the myriad problems we face requires the best and the brightest – and government needs that top talent now.            

There has not been a time in almost eight decades where government has played such a vital role in our lives. Yet, this same period unfortunately coincides with a time in which respect for and trust in government is near historic lows.    

The destruction of civil discourse in the United States has left Americans cynical about the role of government and public faith in institutions is falling. According to a study from the Pew Research Center in 2021, just 24% of Americans trust the government to “do the right thing” all or most of the time. Most alarming, only 17% of Gen Z, 21% of Gen X and 25% of millennials trust the government. Declining trust, along with enticing offers from private companies that fit the lifestyle of new graduates, has led young people to start their careers in other fields, according to the Partnership for Public Service. 

 It’s a shame because for people who really want to make a difference, now is the perfect time to enter government. We need to reverse this trend immediately by showing the incredible value of government service to the community and for individuals. 

I have seen that value first hand. I had the good fortune to serve in government in New York at both the state and local level. While leading Empire State Development, New York’s principal economic development agency, I had the privilege of collaborating with many hardworking and committed colleagues at my agency and across state government to tackle unimaginable challenges to our community. We faced unprecedented economic demands arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, while completing critical infrastructure like Moynihan Train Hall, attracting companies to the state, and implementing economic initiatives with long term benefits. I know that our work will impact the lives of New Yorkers and visitors for generations to come. 

While there is more to be done, our youngest colleagues in government played vital roles in all of these initiatives and devised solutions that will forever be part of their experience. They made a difference and gained an experience that will serve them well for a lifetime.

In his new book, “Hearts Touched with Fire: How Great Leaders are Made,” David Gergen, a former adviser to four presidents of both parties, makes an impassioned case for the next generation of leaders in government. And he’s right that our nation, our state and our city rely on young people answering the call to public service. 

So, to the soon to be graduates of the Class of 2022: You have tremendous opportunity today in this competitive job market. You can join a cool start-up, go to an investment bank or a consulting firm or even make a difference going to a nonprofit organization. But there is plenty of time for that.

Instead, consider starting your career in government, especially at a time when both the New York State and New York City administrations are actively recruiting young talent. The government’s platform is bigger than any platform you can create and you will see the world through new lenses. In no other position can you make such a huge impact on your world and then begin a career with important experience and a unique perspective. You can impact climate or public health or workforce training or help rebuild cities or so much more. 

Serving in government also allows you to confront massive challenges at scale. No other institution is poised to scale or to meet the broad spectrum of needs within our diverse populace. You will learn to work with a range of stakeholders and understand their perspectives. You will work with other smart people driven by a sense of common mission. You will engage with experts in policy, politics, communications, and management. Ask anyone who has ever served in government – it feels incredibly satisfying to work on a policy that will help thousands or even millions of people.  

I have seen what is possible in government and feel fortunate to have had that experience. But don’t just take my word for it. Consider the encouragement and optimism of Sanna Marin, the youngest prime minister in Finnish history, elected at 34. “We all have to fight each and every day for equality, for a better life. It’s very important for everyone to step in, it’s not someone else’s job. That is the reason why I got into politics.” 

Eric Gertler is Executive Chairman of U.S. News & World Report.

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