Melissa Vigil moved to Fort Collins to earn a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. Three years later, those plans changed. “I realized that while I love chemistry and science in general, I wasn’t a happy lab rat,” she said. “I switched to teaching to share my passion for science with students.”
Eleven years later, Melissa is still teaching at Fossil Ridge High School, part of Poudre School District.
Like many Coloradans, Melissa spends a lot of time outside—white water rafting, skydiving, hiking, snowshoeing, shooting, stand up paddle boarding, swimming, and more. And, like many who work in public service careers, she measures success by the impact she has on others. “I feel most proud when I’ve done something tangible when I leave for the day,” she said. “Whether that’s having a successful parent-teacher conference to teach a kid a life lesson bigger than a science concept, finally getting caught up on grading, or creating a new way to engage students.”
Melissa’s career outlook and values are shared by hundreds of thousands of state and local employees across the country. A recent study published by the National Institute on Retirement Security (NIRS) collected and analyzed data surrounding the sentiments public sector workers have about their jobs and the compensation they receive for it.
What Do Public Sector Workers Think About Their Jobs?
State and local employees like helping others, and they like their jobs…
Nearly 90 percent of state and local employees reported being satisfied with having the ability to serve the public. Although 71 percent say that their jobs are stressful, 85 percent are satisfied with their jobs.
In Colorado, 90 percent of state employees report feeling that the work they do is important, according to a 2017 study.
…Yes, even Millennials
Amid reports of Millennials hopping from job to job, the NIRS study showed that 84 percent of Millennials working in state and local government are satisfied with their current job. Eighty-five percent said they plan to stay at their current employer until they are eligible for retirement or can no longer work.
They like their jobs despite a mixed view on pay
Twenty-two percent reported their salaries being very competitive, and 80 percent say they could earn a higher salary in the private sector.
A defined benefit plan is a major factor in retention
Ninety-four percent of state and local employees have favorable views of defined benefit pensions. Fifty-eight percent said that moving them from a pension and into an individual retirement plan would make them more likely to leave their job. And those Millennials: 74 percent said a pension benefit is a major reason they chose a public sector job.
Retirement Security in Colorado
Melissa Vigil loves teaching, but she doesn’t think she’ll teach forever. She said that teaching is a demanding profession. “I want to be able to retire at an age where I’m still fighting to give students my best,” she said. “And selfishly, I’d like to retire at an age where I can enjoy my retirement. My husband and I have a long list of places we would love to travel to!”
As a result, she said “it means everything to be able to rely on a secure retirement.” But planning for retirement isn’t always easy. “I, like many people, find it a bit overwhelming,” she said. “What is most helpful for me is a two pronged approach—some electronic and some in-person information.”
Preparing for retirement isn’t something you do once. Learning about retirement takes place throughout a person’s career. To that end, thousands of people take advantage of PERA’s face-to-face educational opportunities and webinars every year.
The Importance of Understanding the Public Sector Mindset
The trends highlighted in the national study mirror those found in Colorado. “It’s clear from the research that public service is important to state and local workers like teachers, nurses, police officers, and firefighters,” said Dan Doonan, NIRS executive director. Driven by a sense of purpose, state and local workers often accept lower salaries than they could earn in the private sector. “Understanding at a deep level these employee preferences and concerns will best position state and local policymakers to recruit and retain qualified, experienced employees that taxpayers depend upon.”