Only a few of my young acquaintances work with the government at the national or state level. Those who work in the areas of policy, strategy, monitoring and evaluation, and research are even fewer. Youngsters either don’t pursue the education which moulds them into suitable resources for governments or simply don’t see employment with the government as a promising career option. I believe this has to change. On the demand side, governments in India need fresh and contemporary ideas more than ever and youngsters need to be aware of the attractive career options available with the government. On the supply side, we need more courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels which create professionals for the government.
This post is about my work. I hope this will give some kind of an insight for youngsters into working with the government. I work with a state government, so the insights I can give are limited to this level.
I work with the Vision Management Unit (VMU), a part of the Andhra Pradesh State Development Planning Society, which is a part of the Planning Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh. The VMU is headed by the Secretary, Planning department, a bureaucrat. My unit majorly works on Andhra Pradesh’s Vision 2029: the state aspires to become one of the three best states in India by 2022 and the best by 2029. We’re a team of 20-odd youngsters who work in one or two sectors of their interest. Currently, the sectors in which we work are agriculture, water and sanitation, industry, governance, public finance, technology and innovation, social development, infrastructure, environment and sustainability, urban development, health, and education.
On policy and strategy, we draft strategies to achieve the Vision goals and targets, undertake research studies to situate the state on the global landscape, propose amendments to Acts for better efficiency, and conduct multi-stakeholder problem-solving exercises. On monitoring and evaluation, we are part of a bigger team which drafts the quarterly reports for the state and monitors its performance based on a range of indicators. We’d worked on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals and are working on the new framework of Sustainable Development Goals.
What’s the kind of skill set which a unit like the VMU requires its staff to have? In my experience and understanding, the interest in and knack to read, understand, comprehend, and write comes first. Presentation skills, both oral and on slides, matter. One must be able to read a 200-page report, extract its core messages, identify key takeaways from it for the state, and pen them down in less than 500 pages or present them in one slide. The point is not to make a summary of the report, but to propose what can be done in and for the state based on the insights from the report/ paper. People management and communications skills also come in handy, as meetings with government officials at different levels, from the Chief Secretary to village officials, happen often. Sometimes, one has to do the work, sometimes one has to get the work done by someone else. Data analysis skills help when working with large data sets, such as the Census or National Sample Survey Organization’s survey data.
A lot of people have the urge to make an impact on the society in their mind when they consider working with the government. In my experience, one has to understand that the work that you do today might have an impact tomorrow, one month later, one year down the line, or after five years. For instance, if one works on a new policy, it might take a few years to see it bear the fruit. On the other hand, if one contributes to issuing a Government Order, the change happens the next day after the Order is issued.
Salary? Neither bad nor lucrative, to be honest, for someone with social science or public policy background. MBAs from reputed institutions are (have to be) paid as per industry standards. However, as there are not many youngsters with work experience with the government, there will be a bunch of lucrative opportunities for those who stay on and learn. For instance, the World Bank, the UN, consultancies such as EY and KPMG work with governments, pay well and will need qualified professionals at any point in time. So do research organisations.
What next? After a stint with the government, one has the option to move on to consultancies and research organisations. PhD in areas of development studies, public policy, governance etc. is also a great option. Like I said, as there are not many youngsters who get to work with the government in the areas of policy, governance, strategy etc., a PhD candidate with that kind of experience under her belt stands a decent chance even at the best research schools in the world.
Working with the government is a different ballgame altogether. I’m not saying the best, but different. Best for different persons is different. The way it works is a lot different from the private, corporate world setting. Sacred hierarchies, confidential information on your desk, and chances to meet, interact, and work with important persons are included in the package. However, like any other employer, the government too demands hard work, learning, and commitment from professionals for them to go all the way.
For more on the VMU and Andhra Pradesh’s Vision 2029, click here.