Thinking Ahead

Georgia Ragland

By: Georgia Ragland on February 2, 2016 Print This Post

Growing up I wish there had been more career counseling opportunities at my school. All the members of my family were either nurses or teachers so even when I was picking a major in college, I was mostly clueless as to what might happen when it was my turn to look for a full-time job. This week, members of Junior Achievement set up a career fair that offered opportunities to meet and talk with a wide variety of people about their jobs. More than 5,000 students attended during the two day fair. I volunteered to talk about jobs in local government and what it takes to work in city management.

Most of the students were in middle school, although a few high school students were also in attendance. For the four-foot-something male sixth graders whose only thought of the future is to be a professional athlete, it is good to have dreams and hopefully there will be other career fairs in a few years when you are a little more mature and able to recognize the importance of having a back-up plan. I was pleased to find that Kirkwood and Webster Groves students were more prepared than the average student. Few students listed local government as their first choice of career path, but I did enjoy one boy’s enthusiasm about having stayed up last night to watch the returns for the Iowa caucuses.

With only ten minutes to talk to a table full of boys and girls in a noisy and crowded room, I had to really condense what I thought was important about city management. My first question to them, was if they had ever visited the Magic House. Probably 80% of them had, so I was able to segue into the fact that they had visited Kirkwood. We talked numbers such as full-time employees, population, annual budget, and what it meant to be the only full-service city in St. Louis County. They had a list of things they wanted to know about each volunteer such as how many hours a week I work and whether I could work via a virtual office. We talked about city management as a profession and I explained how challenging it was to work in what is still a male-dominated profession. For people who work in city management only around 20% are women and just 13% hold the top spots as city managers. Thirty years ago when I started in this profession and I worked in Illinois, there was only one female city manager in the state. Thank you Valerie, for being a trail blazer.

Other questions they had were what were the advantages and disadvantages of my job, what I liked about it, how much education is needed, and does it require continued education. I told them that even after I graduated from college, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.  After working for five years where I was successful but not truly happy, and at the advice of a good friend from college, I found a public administration graduate program which just happened to concentrate on local government. Yes, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than smart. Finally, they asked, as a manager, what I look for when I hire someone, and I told them that I’m not necessarily interested in the smartest person or the one who has the best grades. Sure, they need to be qualified, but what I’m really looking for is the person who is truly interested in the job, who will show up and be ready to learn.

Pretty soon it will be their time, to go out into the world, look for work, look for meaningful work, and when they do, I hope for at least a few of them, they find it with local government.


 

Georgia Ragland

Written by Georgia Ragland

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