Why this city employee wants young people to consider City Hall for their next jobs - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 20, 2016 12:42 pm

Why this city employee wants young people to consider City Hall for their next jobs

The Office of Innovation and Technology's Eliza Pollack makes the case for public service. "Working for the city is unlike anything I imagined, and it has turned out to be the best decision I could have made."

Eliza Erickson at Technical.ly's 2015 Rise Conference.

(Photo courtesy of Chris Kendig Photography)

This is a guest post by the Office of Innovation and Technology's Eliza Pollack.
“Why?”

That was the first question people asked me when I told them I was leaving my job as a youth programming specialist at a well-known non-profit to accept a position working for the City of Philadelphia.

“Why would you want to leave all this to go work for that?”

“All this” sometimes referred to tangibles, such as my incredible students, their amazing families and my relatively-swanky-for-a-nonprofit corner office with a window (yes, they do exist). But more often than not, it referred to a unique set of workplace values and opportunities, such as the ability to create and run my program with only a few guidelines from leadership, my generally flexible work schedule and the feeling that I was genuinely doing “something good” and using my education and experience to help young people who really needed me.

It was — and is — a fair question, and one that had never really crossed my mind until that day in 2014 when I eagerly said “Yes” to an offer to join the city’s Office of Innovation and Technology as a program manager for innovation management.

I was excited about making the move — the opportunity came with new challenges, new colleagues, a walkable commute and a nice raise — but quickly became anxious about what my new role would entail. Would I have to clock in and out? Would I have a real lunch break that I would have to take at noon? (For someone who normally eats lunch in the late afternoon, this prospect was especially terrifying.) Would I even be able to get anything done, because isn’t the city just inherently terrible at creating and implementing new programs, let alone ones that centered on innovation? And most importantly, would I have to work in a windowless cubicle?

I’ve been fortunate to create and benefit from the city’s realization that if they want to attract and retain next-gen talent, they need to give the kids what they want.

The short answers to those questions: No, no, yes, no.

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The long answer: Working for the city is unlike anything I imagined, and it has turned out to be the best decision I could have made, both personally and professionally.

Philadelphia’s government is going through a renaissance of sorts. In departments ranging from adult education to water, offices are recognizing that they not only need to think differently about their work, but actually need to be different in order to better address the needs of Philadelphians — including the needs of talented, motivated, young professionals looking for their next career move.

My role on the innovation management team has given me a front row seat to the changes happening inside government, and I’ve been fortunate to create and benefit from the city’s realization that if they want to attract and retain next-gen talent, they need to give the kids what they want.

Over the past two and a half years, I’ve been able to build, use and write on the windows of the Innovation Lab, a bright, tech-savvy coworking space aimed at providing a location for collaborative and cross departmental workshops and meeting. I’ve reviewed applications for pilot programs that city employees want to start to find creative solutions for municipal challenges. I’ve been put through — for free — an Innovation Academy that trained me and 70 other employees how to truly think innovatively about our work and the needs of Philadelphia. I get to spend my time interacting with colleagues across departments and sectors, using creativity and imagination to challenge the city to truly do things differently.

As long as I work for the government, I won’t be able to bring my dog to the office. Athleisure will probably never be acceptable attire. An on-site chef will not be cooking my lunches. But, I do get to spend my time giving back to the city I love in a meaningful way that’s very different than the giving back I did in my nonprofit role. Knowing that my salary is paid by taxpayers, that I have to live in the city to work for the city, and that the decisions I’m making deeply impact my quality of life as a Philadelphian make me incredibly accountable for and connected to my job in a deeper sense than my peers who aren’t in this space.

And no amount of employee perks can beat that.

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