Blurring the Lines: D.C. Public and Private Sector Similar, Fluid and Open to Sector Converts

Anyone who’s ever worked in Washington D.C. knows there’s a je n’ais se quoi about the distinctly competitive nature of the job market that keeps top talent flocking to the city of power brokers. The public sector, the most defining feature of the D.C. economy because of its sheer size, is frequently pitted against private sector, even while private sector job openings have only increased in recent years.

And according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a diverse set of industries is driving in-market growth. With the evolution of the IT sector, data analytics, polling, lobbying and even a booming healthcare industry, both private and public-sector jobs have benefited. In addition, public sector jobs have advanced significantly in terms of modern technology infrastructure, bringing public sector jobs up to speed in an area they once lagged in. Whatever lines between the sectors that still existed now have started to blur in more ways than one.

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In fact, a simple search online of “choosing between a public versus private sector job,” reveals countless articles deliberating the pros and cons of each side. Turns out that many still view the choice between the public or private sector as one that spans your career. However, today, there’s more opportunity for fluidity between the two than ever before.

HireStrategy, a D.C.-based professional staffing firm, surveyed Washington D.C. metro employees to examine the similarities and differences of various D.C. metro jobs. The survey looked specifically at private versus public sector jobs in terms of job satisfaction, career opportunity and benefits. Based on survey findings, private and public-sector employees share many of the same anxieties, and may not be so against working for the other as previously believed.

Old habits just die. Private sector job experience still appeals more to employers, yet on the employee level more are viewing an equality between the two. Around 85% from both sides of the public-private sector aisle say they are open to working in the other. In many cases, experience in one sector becomes an asset for securing a position in the other, especially in D.C. where who you know matters.

Furthermore, over a third of employees from each sector don’t view their sector as better than the other. Local employees are pushing aside traditional stigmas and realizing the benefits and opportunities each side offers. So, while taking a consulting job at a top four firm compared to a position in a government agency used to be an easy decision, candidates now have more reasons to deliberate.

It’s worth noting that the historical narrative persists in the minds of those who have made their career in one sector or the other, with about half of private (44%) and public-sector (49%) employees feeling trapped in the sector they work in.

Locally, pay doesn’t play. In D.C., employees clearly value the opportunity to work in an economy with the opportunity to deal in issues currency on both sides of the political spectrum, and employers/organizations value the proximity to lawmakers. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a high number of non-profits, NGOs and professional service firms make their home in D.C. with the hopes of tapping into the influence.

Notably, 89% of D.C. employees believe their industries help the greater good, and 83% say their industries are well respected. In addition, local employees rank purpose at work and their organizations’ ethics standards as the top two factors that impact their trust in an employer. Conversely, on a national scale, employees rank benefits and salary as the top factors that impact trust in an employer.

Thriving in a pressure cooker. While local lore seizes on the perceived rivalry between the public and private sector, especially in the current divisive political environment, there’s actually more evidence that employees are motivated beyond themselves, focusing instead on the mission. For one, more than 60% of private- and public-sector employees enjoy working with the other, so there’s a lot less animosity there than previously thought.

And while work culture in D.C. is high stakes and high stress, this grueling mission-based work demands greater reliance on others, with 87% of employees surveyed ranking colleagues and coworkers as the top reason for loyalty to their company. It also underscores the quality of employees and people who are working in D.C. From IT and healthcare to federal government roles, the current local job market represents a highly competitive environment where everyone is trying to lock down the best candidates, who are not by any means “hoarded” across one industry.

Overall, the D.C. economy is booming, leading the charge across multiple sectors, with significant promise in the IT, healthcare and professional service sectors, both public and private. Along with overarching national hiring trends, the local economy has become more flexible for candidates of various backgrounds to transition into new industries. As much as the old strategy of staying with one company or within one industry has changed, so too has serving as a lifer in either the private and public sector. While challenges persist in completely breaking free of old paradigms for both organizations and employees, in a market where candidates hold more power than ever, opportunities abound for those looking to capitalize on existing experience to pivot into a whole new arena, or sector. And for most employers, that opportunity is welcome as more and more seek to wield influence in pressing forward the issues that matter most to them.

Chris Vennitti

Chris Vennitti
Chris Venniti is vice president of HireStrategy.

Chris Vennitti

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