Charles “Chas” Jordan is just one year out of graduate school, but the management analyst for Largo, Fla., is already touting the benefits of a career in public works.

And he isn't even an engineer.

Jordan's background is in public administration, and he entered local government with hopes to move into management. But once he was inside the city's public works department, he saw opportunities for project management in a specialized field and decided to stay.

“We're used to not having to wait for career advancement or professional development opportunities,” says Jordan, one of four panelists at “Recruiting for the Future” scheduled for Sun., Aug. 17 at 8:30 a.m. “An acute generation gap has occurred between veterans and young professionals, who are clear about what they want from their employers and their careers.

“People are starting to realize that engineering isn't the only experiential piece of the puzzle,” he explains. “Departments need individuals who know how to get the money or deal with the public, and that's sometimes lost in the general perception of public works. We're not all blue-collar, in-the-field guys.”

Although sustainability is a top focus of this year's American Public Works Association convention, there's another issue that's just as important to maintaining successful, efficient public works departments: quality of life. When choosing where to work, today's young public works professionals consider not just location, but also job security, benefits, on-the-job training, and potential for advancement.

“When you hire people, pay attention to what they want out of their career and see how you can work within your organization to make sure they're involved,” says Rebecca Anne Bilderback, civil engineer III with the city of Olathe, Kan., who will host the discussion designed to help hiring managers in their recruitment efforts.

“The younger generation believes that agencies should invest in their employees' personal and professional development as much as those employees devote their time to their work,” Jordan explains. “Public agencies should provide the information and knowledge that their employees can give back to the agency itself.”

Jordan's already addressed how to expand the search for non-engineers: He's working with a local technical institute, which trains high school juniors and seniors, to develop a public works academy.

While location does matter, these days it has more to do with available jobs in the market than quiet streets and picket fences.

 

“Today's generation has the opportunity to go anywhere and do anything,” Jordan adds. “Hiring managers need to understand that they can no longer just put an ad in the local paper. They have to get their message out to the entire country.”

At “Best Places to Work,” to take place Mon., Aug. 18 at 10 a.m., public works managers will share their programs for attracting and retaining employees.

It likely won't feature a “top 10” list of best places to work, because young professionals are looking for innovative departments, and that can happen anywhere.

The best places to work sustain morale. That's only accomplished if the agency encourages career development, Bilderback says.

“Younger employees hope to get support for professional advancement,” she explains. “There's a need for us to progress faster at that than in the past. Our work styles differ from other generations.”