2011 Federal Government Jobs Outlook

man on latop in front of Capitol building

A midyear election in which candidates ran against Washington and a troubled economy have put downward pressure on government hiring, but there are still plenty of federal job openings in Uncle Sam's shop.

In the first half of fiscal year 2010 (October 2009 to March 2010) the government employment market was brisk -- 58,893 new employees were hired in full-time, permanent, nonseasonal jobs, says John Palguta, vice president of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington, DC, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that promotes the benefits of public-sector jobs That's a pace that will play out to 125,000 to 130,000 federal hires in fiscal year 2011.

Even if no new federal jobs are created in 2011, the government will still have to hire an amazing quantity of new workers in 2011. "Folks leaving drives demand," Palguta says. "More than half of those hired in 2009 were simply replacing people who left, and the federal workforce is not getting younger."

When the economy improves, federal workers who put off retirement due to economic concerns will vacate their cubbies at a faster pace, creating even more government job openings, he predicts. "The Thrift Savings Plan, our equivalent of the 401k, is improving, so I think you're going to see an exodus in the 80,000 to 90,000 range in FY 2011," Palguta says.

Cutbacks in Federal Hiring Ahead?

Will Republican proposals to get rid of fraud, waste and mismanagement in federal government, as well as to freeze hiring result in significant federal layoffs or drastically reduced government hiring in 2011? Probably not, Palguta says. Republicans typically don't support hiring freezes for defense, homeland security and other agencies responsible for strengthening the border, supporting the military and taking care of wounded veterans. That doesn't leave a whole lot of other places to cut, Palguta says.

The bottom line: Even with more Republicans in office, the government will still have the help wanted sign in its window, but won't add as many new jobs at the same pace as it added jobs in the past couple of years, Palguta says.

Skill Mismatch

As in the private sector, some government jobs are hard to fill despite high unemployment levels -- after all, the federal government employs only so many retail, food-service and construction workers. "A lot of folks looking for jobs don't have a skill set the government is looking for," Palguta says.

If your career calls for specialized knowledge like healthcare, security/protection, compliance or enforcement or you have math, IT, science, engineering, accounting or analysis experience, you'll find the line to get into Uncle Sam's shop is short. "For those jobs, the competition will not be as bad as you might think," he says.

Cybersecurity Jobs Especially Secure

Hiring hot spots include the new Cyber Security Command at Fort Meade, Maryland, the suburban Washington, DC, home to the National Security Agency and the Defense Information Systems Agency. While the exact number of civil service, civilian and military workers the government is hiring for cybersecurity positions is classified, it's in the thousands, says Ronald Sanders, senior executive advisor at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm based in McLean, Virginia.

"Any career with the word 'cyber' in it will have a long, lucrative future," he predicts. "Every federal agency, without regard to mission, has a need for cybersecurity professionals because every agency has systems they have to secure and protect. It's going to be a growth area because it's of critical national importance in the civil service and the many contractors that support the federal government."

Cybersecurity isn't just for computer geeks either. "Critical thinking and analysis skills are sometimes more important than technical skills in these jobs, where connecting the dots is important," Sanders says.

From KSAs to Resumes

No matter which government job you're applying for, you should find the process easier, thanks to new hiring procedures that rely on resumes rather than the old, lengthy online questions and answers about knowledge, skills and abilities, or KSAs. But don't expect those changes to speed up the months-long government hiring process immediately, because agencies will be slow to change the recruitment methods they've used for decades.

State and Local Hiring Down

At the local level, 2010 wasn't a great year to be a government employee, and 2011 isn't looking so hot either. The BLS reports local governments shed 76,000 workers in the first nine months of 2010, including 50,000 educators. State governments laid off 7,000 employees during the same period.

Even if the economy has a brisk upturn in 2011, the outlook for state and local hiring would still be poor for at least a year, says Richard Clinch, director of economic development for the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore Merrick School of Business. State income and property taxes are paid the year after they're earned, so a turnaround in state budgets will lag the economic recovery by a year. Even if taxpayers earn more and their home values rise, states won't see the resulting improved tax revenue until folks pay their taxes in April 2012, he says.

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