Science and Tech Students Cite Mild Interest in Federal Careers


The bad news: Federal salaries can’t live up to their expectations.

When it comes to competing for highly-skilled, entry-level talent in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, there’s good and bad news for federal agencies. The good news: College students majoring in STEM fields have roughly the same interest in federal careers than their non-STEM counterparts. The bad news: Federal salaries can’t live up to STEM students’ expectations.

That’s according to a new analysis by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, which found that STEM students have roughly the same interest (almost 6 percent) in federal service as non-STEM students. In addition, 10 percent of STEM majors reported searching for a position on, slightly more than the percentage of all majors who had done so (8.8 percent).

The Partnership analyzed the 2013 National Association of Colleges and Employers Student Survey to gauge the level of interest current college students have in federal service as well as their employment plans, ideal career, salary expectations and immediate plans after graduation.

Still, despite equal interest in federal careers as their non-STEM peers, STEM students said the most popular choices of career were in a private sector firm (33.9 percent) or the medical or health care sector (25.2 percent).

STEM majors also place higher priority on starting salary than their non-STEM counterparts, with nearly 46 percent saying they expect to earn more than $55,000 annually, compared with 25.4 percent among all majors. “Starting salaries in the federal government for students with undergraduate degrees are well below this mark,” the report states.

The report includes a number of recommendations for agencies looking to attract Millennial talent overall, including making the federal hiring process easier to understand, highlighting job attributes and benefits entry-level workers most desire, leveraging student internships and providing opportunities for growth and development. For STEM talent in particular, agencies should emphasize the opportunity to work on unique and high-profile projects that may not be available in the private sector, the report states.

Tim McManus, vice president for education and outreach at the Partnership, told Wired Workplace last week that one of the primary goals of its Call to Serve program has been reaching out to colleges and universities to help them promote the wide range of careers the federal government offers.

“It’s not unusual for college students in public sector, history or government types of courses or majors to think about government as an employer,” he said. “But for the person in a hard science or business field, it’s less likely that they’re going to look to government because they don’t understand that those opportunities are even available.”

The Partnership’s Call to Serve effort also has reached out to colleges and universities to help connect them with agencies to get a broader understanding of the range of skills needed for in-demand jobs, McManus added.

“It may not be enough that you’re an IT or computer science major; you may need to have good analytical or project management skills as well,” he said. “That’s part of our focus – to get agencies and talent to look beyond having a degree in ‘X’ and therefore thinking government might be the right choice. It’s understanding what other skills they need to be successful.” 

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