STEM Grads Shun Federal Jobs

Federal agencies are going to face steep competition when it comes to recruiting and retaining information technology and other in-demand workers, as only 3 percent of college students in such fields say they intend to work for the federal government following graduation.

The Partnership for Public Service analysis of the 2011 National Association of Colleges and Employers student survey found that federal agencies will encounter tough competition going forward in filling jobs that require skills in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Of the 6,868 STEM majors surveyed, 36.7 percent said they plan to enter the private sector, 33.9 percent said they plan to go to graduate school, while only 3 percent said they intend to work for the federal government. The remainder plan to go to non-profits, teach or pursue other endeavors, the study found.

Overall, just 6 percent of all college students surveyed said they plan to work in government at the state, local or federal level, the lowest number expressing an interest in public service since NACE first asked the question in 2008. More specifically, only 2.3 percent of all respondents indicated that they plan to work for the federal government following graduation.

"While the overall portrait suggests that the federal government faces a tough road attracting the top college graduates, it presents an opportunity for managers to better understand students' expectations and desires, and illustrated the need to accentuate the desirable aspects of public service in their recruitment initiatives," the Partnership report states.

Students also were asked what they wanted most in a first job. The opportunity for personal growth was the number one attribute, followed by job security, good benefits, a high starting salary and improving the community. For STEM majors, however, high starting salaries were one of their highest priorities, with 30.5 percent expecting to make more than $60,000 per year.

"Starting salaries for new federal employees with undergraduate degrees frequently are not competitive with many private sector employers," the report states, noting that students can generally anticipate making between $34,075 and $42,209 in the Washington, D.C., area and slightly more or less in other parts of the country depending on local labor costs.

Meanwhile, most students are worried about the impact the tough economy will have on their job search. A majority of students (67 percent) worry about finding a job after graduation, and just over half (53 percent) believe the troubled economy will affect their job search.

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