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public service

Parliament buildings.

High-school students face big life choices on their way to the coveted cap and gown ceremony, but even after the diplomas are doled out and the hats are thrown, graduates still have major decisions to make. Aside from selecting where they go to school and what program they enrol in, they will eventually need to decide between the private sector and public service when they enter the job market.

Canada's public service includes all organizations controlled by the government – that's a diverse work force of more than 3.6-million employees.

Despite recent budget cuts, the public sector still offers numerous opportunities with high entry-level salaries, a professional work environment and the potential for job growth. In fact, in a recent survey of 3,500 Canadian business students by Universum, the federal government was ranked as the third most desirable employer after Apple and Google. Also among the top 20 were other public-sector organizations including the Canada Revenue Agency and provincial government.

"For younger students, the demographics [in the public sector] are really looking in their favour," says Susan Phillips, the director of Carleton University's School of Public Policy and Administration.

According to the Treasury Board Secretariat, there is no hiring freeze and recruitment efforts aimed at students and new graduates are ongoing. The average employee in this sector is 44 years old, so hiring will continue in preparation for when "the wave of retirement takes hold," Phillips says.

Among the relevant fields of study are computer science, biology, sociology, political science, commerce, law, medicine, business or information management, mathematics, engineering or public administration, says Public Service Commission spokeswoman Annie Trépanier, adding that the public sector is hiring postsecondary graduates in many of these areas.

While opportunities abound, the popularity of the public sector makes the hiring process highly competitive. "They're going to hire those who stand out because they have better qualifications, they did better in their studies, and they had some experience that distinguishes them," Phillips says.

One of the ways students can distinguish themselves is by speaking both of Canada's official languages. With more than 130,000 public-service jobs concentrated in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, bilingualism is an essential qualification in this sector. English-speaking job seekers should develop their flair for French prior to entering the public- service work force, Phillips says, because "increasingly there is less training on the job, you're expected to come in with it."

Students can build strong résumés by applying to targeted work or internship and co-op programs through the government or their postsecondary institution. Outside of the classroom, Phillips says, students should seek extracurricular activities that give them a sense of how government and public policy works. "Demonstrating an interest in civic affairs and in being engaged in policy, no matter if that's through a party or another route, is seen as positive," she says.

Whether it's mastering both languages or volunteering for a political party, education is a key component to success in the civil service. While some opportunities are open to high-school graduates, students looking to rise through the ranks will need to attend university and eventually graduate in their field of interest.

"Increasingly, a masters is, for those in more senior positions, what would be expected," Phillips says. With multiple training and advancement opportunities, a job in the public service can evolve into a career, so students should "concentrate on getting a field of study that you'll be happy with and that you can grow in for the next period of your life."

Ishani Nath is a marketing and editorial intern at TalentEgg Inc.

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