3 things I learned as a millennial in government
I spent the first two years of my professional life working for government organizations.
Even before graduation, I worked as a communications officer under the public relations office of the University of the Philippines-Los Baños, my university.
At that time, I was on my last semester working on the final part of my undergraduate study, when my thesis adviser offered me a job in the said office. I accepted the job and thought that it would be a good opportunity to be close to my busy adviser every day, who happened to be both the director of the said office and a senior faculty in my college.
My stint in the university was short, but it gave me a glimpse of what it's like to be in the public sector – the feeling of satisfaction every time you complete a task and know that it contributes to a greater good, a greater mission. And of course, this view also included warm and cheerful titas equipped with ziplocks for food leftovers, government procurement forms, delayed pay checks, food-filled meetings and debates over menu choices for events, and much more.
My contract ended the day after graduation. There is a big world outside of Los Baños, I said to myself. The millennial in me was so excited about what the world had to offer. I want to build a career in media and journalism, no, maybe in advertising, or maybe in civil society.
As any fresh graduate, I was not really sure about the path I wanted to pave for myself. Not that I am now sure of what I want to become, but during those days, I was incredibly lost that it took me 3 months to find a job, with a few interviews missed on purpose and calls unreturned in between.
In fact, the day before my initial interview in the second government organization I worked for (technically my first job), was supposedly my first day in a consulting firm in Ortigas – a job referred to me by a friend. The next day, I told my friend I found another job – somewhere more familiar and somewhere closer to my personal advocacies: a government organization.
For almost a year-and-a-half, I worked for the Department of Science and Technology- Information and Communications Technology Office. Being a national government agency, the experience that I gained from my short stint in the university was nothing compared to the things I learned from DOST-ICTO.
The people I met during my stay in the office, are some of the most passionate spirits I have ever met. Not to mention the fact I had the chance to travel the Philippines, when before graduation, the only place I visited outside of Luzon was Iloilo.
They say millennials are difficult to understand in the workplace. Many have a sense of self-entitlement, while some are too impatient with bureaucratic processes, since they grew up in a world of rapidly changing technology that promotes easier ways of doing things.
Some studies, however, suggest that more millennials are motivated to work for organizations with a social cause. Hence, while more mature people still dominate the public sector, younger generations are slowly coming in, most still wrapped with idealism.
While I don’t fully agree with how older generations describe my generation, I know I am a millennial – a millennial busy trying to chart her way through this life and trying to figure out what she wants to do for the rest of her life.
Here are the things I learned in the first two years of my professional life spent in government organizations:
1. Some of the brightest minds of the country are in the government
Someone once told me that if you want a tedious job and a boring life, you should work for government. This is completely wrong. I had the pleasure of working with prolific scholars, experienced managers, and professionals who excel in their fields. Most of these people even go to the office on Saturdays to continue their work.
Last year, I met a 54-year-old government employee of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA). She was my roommate in UP Bliss. I knew little about her, except the fact that every day, she would wake up at 6 am to have her breakfast, prepare for work, and then leave at 7:30 am. She would arrive at our apartment every night between 9-10 pm. On Saturdays, she would also go to work, but go home a little earlier than usual.
She was probably one of the glorified titas of PCA, I said to myself. Until one evening, I started asking her questions: how she managed to stay in government, why she goes home late every night, why she chooses to share a room with two millennials when she can surely rent a place of her own.
I learned she is from Davao City. She moved to the central office to assume a position as a division chief. She has been with the agency for 25 years. When she was in her 30s, she was sent to Europe to study and specialize. She is not particularly good with smartphones and computers – very much like the picture of the titas in government we have in our minds – but she drives one of the new projects of PCA, which includes online marketing of Filipino coconut products. I can feel her passion every time she speaks about her project.
2. There is something about power
Power is a double-edged sword. It can either build you or destroy you. Being close to powerful people could give you an illusion of power. And yes, Frank Underwood of House of Cards somehow made sense when he said that power, for him, is a better choice than money.
Personally, I believe this is also the reason why many government officials and employees choose to stay in government when they can earn more in private corporations and institutions.
3. Government has promising projects, but too much bureaucracy slows down implementation
Government has promising projects, with well-written and well-researched project proposals crafted by the most qualified public servants. But the way the government is structured makes the implementation of projects staggered and unsustainable.
Based on personal accounts of Filipinos in the countryside, government projects take time to reach their communities. I was fortunate enough to work on a government project that promotes countryside development, but for some agencies, the saying that development and projects can only be felt by areas closer to the center of power (Manila) stays true.
Federalism is seen by many as a possible solution to this problem. Power and governance must be decentralized for development to be truly felt outside Metro Manila, for no Juan to be left behind.
I may have left my job at DOST-ICTO to seek new adventures, but I am proud to say that my short stay in government gave me insights and lessons impossible to summarize in a list.
For now, I am planning to explore working for a private organization with the same advocacies. But I know one thing is for sure, I will one day work for a government organization again. – Rappler.com
Joie Cruz is a communications strategist, with an extensive experience in development work, project management, and ICT industry development. She now works as the deputy executive director of the Animation Council of the Philippines Inc, a non-profit organization promoting Filipino talent in animation.