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Examine the expectations and inferences underlying selected job positions. Consider timely topics in career preparation and the struggle for fulfilling employment. Analyze what could be improved in either situation. If this blog reminds you too much of work, then peruse my namesake blog for lighter fare.

Fuck UWM and all universities! UW-Milwaukee and their brethren are mediocre. Click banner ads on ClixSense instead; it's a better use of time than a college education in the UW System.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Training to Become a Municipal Manager: A Raw Deal for Many

Today’s post is lengthy but entirely necessary as a cautionary account to dissuade those who are considering the Master’s program in public administration at UW-Milwaukee. I should make it clear that by mentioning the program, I am not endorsing it by any means. Why do I advise people against enrolling in the same program from which I graduated? Read on, take notes, and be skeptical of “conventional wisdom.”

Municipal internships were incredibly difficult to get into because the city managers running the program would refuse to return phone calls I left on voicemail once getting through the secretary or personal assistant responsible for screening calls. Emails were similarly ignored except for the occasional response assuring me there were no internships to be had irrespective of my timing several weeks before the following semester and towards the end of manager vacation periods. The program’s internship coordinator was no help because he merely referred back to the same city manager whom I had attempted dozens of times to reach.

Although I enrolled in the internship elective and stumped every semester for a qualifying internship, I had to cancel enrollment in that elective every semester in which my attempts at getting an internship failed. The alternative would have been to receive an “incomplete,” and two consecutive incomplete statuses produce an “F.” Only through my foresight in the matter did I dodge that bullet -- but it's unfortunate that foresight did not extend back to the spring 2008 semester when I had scouted the program. Let’s just say that when someone says, “You could do these jobs with that degree,” they really mean, “Although there is a logical connection between the studies in this program and those jobs, you might have no chance.”

Five years later and 30 months out of the program, my self-assessment of goals is far more cautious, concrete, and immune to ego-inflating pandering. I considered enrolling in a nursing program but searched the Internet for unemployed nursing graduates -- and there are FORUMS full of them! I’m glad the Internet has facilitated the discovery of those less fortunate in leveraging their logically and technically proper education into actual employment because such accounts provide a more realistic weight to the risk of pursuing education beyond the short-term opportunity cost.

While in the Master’s program in public administration at UW-Milwaukee, I spoke with many classmates about their occupational status and intended career paths. About half the first-semester students had an internship; another quarter were already employed as mid-career professionals; and the remaining quarter were neither. By the fourth semester, these segmentations had changed respectively into three-fifths, three-tenths, and one-tenth among the original cohort (group of students identified by semester of entry into the program).

Because none of those individuals had actually agreed to participation in any study -- longitudinal or otherwise -- I can report on post-graduate outcomes only from my perspective. My suspicion is that at least half of students didn’t get their money’s worth due to having fewer than twenty-four months of part-time internship experience by the time of graduation. Subtracting those who already worked in an office, it is probable that a third of the first-semester cohort still have minimum-wage jobs and hence are no better off career-wise almost three years out of the program.

So why the difference? Did those who secured internships lie on their résumés? We’ll never know due to legal obstacles such as privacy rights. Given how several of my friends from the program couldn’t secure an interview for town clerk despite each having at least eighteen months municipal intern experience, the cynic in me believes egregious misrepresentations were made on the résumés of those who got a position.

There is a pattern: the under-employed graduates have spoken with each other but have been unable to touch base with those graduates employed in their intended field. But does the pattern reflect relevant meaning? It boils down to the fact there was serious gatekeeping going on by way of cliques. As mentioned below, I was a very active networker who understood that someone’s friend or relative might be an inroad. The problem is that a one-way bridge does not constitute a true social connection.

It is only fitting those on the outs should receive a partial refund of tuition for the value lost to such directed limitations imposed by those running the various internships. However, the university holds the opinion that only course work is guaranteed. Remaining enrolled in perpetuity until an arbitrary number of internships has been served proves ineffective because the hanger-on pays semester after semester of tuition to gamble anew each period against new names and fresher faces -- and all the city managers have since learned to tune out the persistent applicant.

So why bother enrolling for subsequent semesters in hopes of not having to drop that internship elective for the nth time? I’m sharing lessons learned from the regrettable experience so the world can be better informed about the risk of pursuing a Master’s degree. And yes, there was a 360-degree review of “fit” or compatibility between goals and aptitudes before admission into and halfway through the program.

Therein lies the problem: the assessment was too narrow and excluded the importance of personal charisma in making anything out of the program. How was I, moderately successful in the student government, supposed to predict my networking skills wouldn’t win the day in a supposedly less political program? That would prove to be an ill omen of subsequent job search efforts.

I’d advise anyone considering enrollment in a public administration or government affairs program to refrain from doing so if you’re not exactly a pillar of the community or even the life of the weekend party. I’m no wallflower by any means, but my networking just didn’t produce any inroads. True introverts will have even less success in such a program.

If you’re wondering where all the successful people in the world are, then be very pessimistic about your chances about getting a better job as a result of an educational program. They sense trouble about you and hide away or at least avoid eye contact. No amount of knowledge acquired will change this. To hammer home my point, I changed the wording of two speech bubbles in the following Beetle Bailey® comic from Mort Walker’s 2005 compilation The Best of Beetle Bailey:

“Thank you, Joe, for saving me thousands of dollars in tuition and over two years of my time by warning me to stay away from public administration programs!” You’re welcome and may thank me by donating several dollars via the PayPal links in the header or footer of this page.

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