Attracting Young Professionals to Careers in Local Government: When Trying to Attract Younger Workers, Governments Need to Concentrate on Partnerships with Universities and Colleges to Ensure Their Programs Are Responsive to Municipal Needs

Article excerpt

A version of this article originally ran in the June 2009 issue of Canadian Finance Matters, the GFOA's Canadian newsletter.

Municipal governments everywhere are concerned with attracting younger workers. One way to do this is for municipalities to form partnerships with universities, making sure students get opportunities that both get them interested in local government and equip them for careers in this area. Nova Scotia's municipal community decided to work with Dalhousie University on getting students involved in local government initiatives, and these opportunities have been successful in generating student interest. In addition, the municipal courses developed and offered as part of the university's Master of Public Administration (MPA) program have contributed to preparing students for local government careers, and a number of graduating class of 2009 students who registered for the municipal courses are currently working, or pursuing employment opportunities, in local government.

THE CATALYST

The catalyst for the Nova Scotia Municipal Community-Dalhousie University Initiative was a report prepared in 2006 for the Nova Scotia Association of Municipal Administrators, which draws its core membership from Nova Scotia's urban and rural municipalities and local government special purpose bodies. The report, titled "Attracting the next generation of municipal government managers in Nova Scotia; projected that within the next decade in Nova Scotia, there would be less than one person to replace every two people who retire. The report focused on the pressing need to attract younger workers and on formulating recommendations to help recruit the next generation of municipal government managers. The key areas and supporting strategies identified included the following: when trying to attract younger workers, governments need to concentrate on partnerships with universities and colleges to ensure their programs are responsive to municipal needs.

Following the release of the report, the municipal community--represented by the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (UNSM), Nova Scotia Association of Municipal Administrators (AMA), Province of Nova Scotia Municipal Affairs, Nova Scotia Municipal Finance Corporation (MFC) and Dalhousie University--met to discuss options for attracting more young people to managerial positions in local government and improving local government educational opportunities. The MPA program at the Dalhousie University School of Public Administration had offered graduate courses in local government in the past, but the courses had been discontinued a decade ago because of small class sizes and financial limitations. The MPA program also offered an internship program, and each year a few of the students would select municipal employment opportunities with either the Nova Scotia Municipal Finance Corporation or the Halifax Regional Municipality. Interns often pursued careers in local government as a result of these opportunities, so increasing the number of municipal internships was seen as a way of attracting young professionals to local government.

A meeting was held with the director of the Dalhousie School of Public Administration, who was enthusiastic about the idea because it would meet a municipal educational need as well as rounding out the school's program to include all three orders of government--federal, provincial and municipal--in its curriculum. The initiative then expanded to include additional financial resources, enhanced content, and formal commitments from each of the partners. Both intermediate and long-term strategies were developed and agreed on, and a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was drafted. Resources were committed for the first four years, and a commitment was made to seek funding for a permanent chair in local government at Dalhousie University.

COMMITMENTS AND RESOURCES

Each of the signatories made specific commitments, and all parties contributed resources. …