Category: Civil Service

Safe and Open Playground Space

Safe and Open Playground Space

Adventure Playground, a space for all children to explore and learn through free play.

By: Araceli Mohseni, NxtGov Member

In early March of this year, NxtGov partnered with the Sacramento Adventure Playground, a free after-school youth development program for ages six to fifteen. Adventure Playground is unique in its conception and mission: to promote the imagination, creativity and education of children. The very first Adventure Playground was founded in Copenhagen, and was originally known as a junk playground, where urban children were able to build their own spaces and structures using real tools, raw materials, and cooperation. Much like its predecessor, Sacramento’s own Adventure Playground allows children the freedom to play indoors and outdoors with raw materials like tires, cardboard, planks and paint.

On a gloomy Saturday in early March, NxtGov volunteers gathered around Director Steve Claude for orientation before Adventure Playground’s operating hours. It had just rained and the skies were dark and dreary. As I stepped into Sacramento’s Adventure Playground, I was aware of the raw materials on the premises. Tires, wood, cardboard, buckets, fish tanks, couches and giant blocks seemed to be all around making the space feel cluttered. And yet, as the orientation progressed, Steve clearly defined the different stations of the playground. There was the crafting station where children would be encouraged to build their own robots with raw and recycled materials, and hot glue guns! The pet station was adjacent to the crafting station, and upon closer inspection, it hosted a variety of animals including fish and madagascar roaches. The children would be allowed to “pet” the roaches after earning enough currency by picking up pieces of trash. The bank was meant to teach children the power of currency and delayed gratification; the more you saved your currency, the more you could “afford” to buy select items or time with the popular madagascar roaches. There was also a clay station and a kaleidoscope crafting station. There were giant building blocks and recycled couches that had found a happy home at Adventure Playground. During the orientation, Steve mentioned that we were to supervise and assist the children interested working at the different stations. Yet, Steve was quick to point out that were also meant to encourage kids to play freely and if they choose to build a robot, they were absolutely allowed to use the hot glue guns.

As a new mother to a one-year old, I was a little on the edge. Were we to allow children to roam free, to play with raw materials that could be potentially dangerous? Yes! And I quickly understood why. After our volunteer session, I reflected on what I saw, happy children engaged in play with each other and with their surroundings. It had rained the day before and the children took full advantage of the mud pits outdoors. I saw children running, jumping off the building blocks and enjoying the slides. Children built their robots and crafted clay creations while others were fully invested in petting the roaches. Our natural tendency to explore, create and learn from play are innate to us, and children covet this style of discovery and education. It was difficult for me to reckon with a model of play so different from what I grew up in. Growing up in an immigrant family, my parents worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, which limited their free time. They did not have time to supervise my sister and I, and they were constantly worried about our safety. We lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the worst part of town, where dumpsters overflowed, cars screeched through the streets on multiple occasions colliding with the brick wall at the end of the cul-de-sac, and where drugs were sold, purchased and consumed. Because of these circumstances, my parents prohibited us from playing outdoors. We were meant to walk directly home, shut the door behind us, and under no circumstances were we to open it. This meant endless weekday evenings indoors. What I would have given to have had an Adventure Playground in my neighborhood! To run, jump and explore the outdoors alongside other children. 

As a new mother to a little one, I am happy to know there is a place like Adventure Playground where supervision is secondary to exploration so that my little one can grow up unafraid and emboldened by the power of play. Currently, about 1,000 adventure playgrounds exist in Europe, largely in Denmark, Switzerland, France, German, the Netherlands and England. Japan has a number of Adventure playgrounds as well. This European model of an after school program encourages play as a way to develop the imagination, creativity and education of children. It provides the space for children to learn and grow and relies on volunteers like the members of NxtGov to provide adult supervision and help with cleanup and set-up. Perhaps more importantly, it provides children of all income levels with the open space they need to roam indoors and outdoors in a safe and engaging environment. 


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Paths to Service Profile featuring Laura Carr

Paths to Service Profile featuring Laura Carr

Name: Laura Carr

Job Title: Air Pollution Specialist

Recommended Reading: Walkable City by Jeff Speck

What was your path into public service?

Lots of my family have had careers in the public sector, so I grew up with public service in the back of my mind as an option that was not only viable but attractive, presenting an opportunity to help people and leverage the power of government for good. Two environmental studies classes in high school posed big, concerning questions about the state of the planet, and a B.A. in environmental policy provided both a framework to grapple with them and further confirmation for me that policy work in the public sector was the best pressure point to try to address them. I volunteered part-time at a Caltrans district office to get experience working for the State, and then committed fully to that millennial rite of passage, the unpaid internship, at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in Sacramento. The internship evolved into a paid position, which I held for more than a year before opting to go back to school for a brief ten-month stint to earn an M.S. in economics. Four months after completing my Master’s, I got the job I’d been envisioning since college at the California Air Resources Board (CARB). I’m hoping for and planning on a full career in public service. The work is fulfilling, the colleagues are inspiring, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead.

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

At CARB, I’m part of the air quality planning staff, focusing on the San Joaquin Valley. The planning effort to clean the air and meet national air quality standards involves putting together usually quite lengthy documents laying out the strategy to cut emissions. Earlier this year, I helped write and compile a thousand-page plan for the Valley that had been in the works for well over two years—longer than I’ve been with the agency. Now that the plan is finished, we’re moving into the implementation phase, making sure everything is progressing as laid out in the plan. It’s a big task with lots of moving parts, but it’s a team effort, which makes it doable and rewarding.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Know that you might not hear back about a job you’ve applied for; sometimes that courtesy isn’t provided, but don’t let it get you down. Relatedly, be patient, be persistent, and don’t despair if you don’t get the first position, or even the first dozen positions, that you apply for. Applying for jobs with the state is at least partly a numbers game, and finding the right fit is liable to take time on the order of months rather than weeks.

What’s it like living and working in Sacramento?

Great! It lives up beautifully to its City of Trees designation, has an eminently walkable downtown (see recommended reading), and it’s invigorating to be surrounded by so many other people who’ve chosen a path of public service.


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Statement of Qualifications Workshops

Statement of Qualifications Workshops

By Courtney King, NxtGov Member

In May I had the opportunity to provide two workshops on the Statement of Qualifications writing process organized by NxtGov’s Professional Development team and hosted by the Department of General Services (DGS). If you were in attendance, thank you! It was awesome to meet you.

I currently work in Talent Acquisition for the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), but these presentations were informed more from my position as a former college writing instructor. Before I came to state service, I taught English language and writing courses at universities across America as well as in China. My focus in these courses was on making writing more accessible for people who had feared it in the past. In Demystifying SOQs Part A (Slides | Handout), I tried to address the SOQ writing task as I would a writing prompt in my classroom: by analyzing the audience, author, and purpose. All writing tasks are more manageable if we know why we’re writing and who we’re writing for.

The SOQ can be a particularly challenging assignment because it feels like yet another generic hoop for busy applicants, but this document serves a very specific purpose in the larger picture of your application. When we can reframe our approach and put ourselves in the shoes of our hiring managers, we can be more successful in communicating our fit for the position. With a better understanding of why hiring managers require this document and what they’re looking for, applicants can approach the task with more confidence (and with confidence comes better writing).

In Demystifying SOQs Part B (Slides | Handout) we explored the features of the SOQ prompt as a genre. Many candidates lament the time it takes to create their SOQ from scratch (especially if you find out about the job on the final filing date), so we looked at ways we can prepare for upcoming SOQs by doing some of the writing beforehand. Using AntConc, I analyzed 50 SOQ prompts for shared language. Unsurprisingly, experience and abilities are asked for in almost every SOQ prompt.

Why do we care about word frequencies? The jobs you apply for may differ, but you remain you, with all your accomplishments and skills just waiting to be described. This is why creating a repository of the specific work tasks that illustrate key qualifications can significantly speed up our SOQ writing process and add some calmness and control to an otherwise stressful experience. Lastly, we shared some predictable sentence structures we can use to simplify our writing (all available on the handout).

This second talk also afforded me the opportunity to conduct a peer review and talk one-on-one with applicants about their experiences with the state hiring process. It was so inspiring to see the crowd chatting and workshopping their applications, adding so much value with their different perspectives.

Thank you to everyone who shared their lunch with me last month. I hope you all land the state job of your dreams!

Courtney King is a NxtGov member and a Talent Acquisition Analyst at CalSTRS. Connect with her on LinkedIn!


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2019 California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA) Scholarship Award Opportunity for one lucky NxtGov Member!

2019 California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA) Scholarship Award Opportunity for one lucky NxtGov Member!

Registration is now open for Cohort 2019 of the California Innovation Playbook for Government Change Agents (Cal-IPGCA).

NxtGov is excited to announce that registration is open for the Cal-IPGCA Cohort 2019! This program aims to transform government with enterprise innovations that Cal-IPGCA teams and their departmental Champions are deploying right now – Watch for updates! You have the opportunity to join this effort! We are pleased to announce that NxtGov can award one $2,850 scholarship for attendance in this 5- Month program. The program and registration under “LEARN MORE” below will guide you through the details of this 5-month journey.

WHAT IS CAL-IPGCA?

Cal-IPGCA is a leadership and innovation training program unlike any other available to state employees. Six teams are assigned one of six statewide Innovation Priorities/problems to create Moonshot solutions with 10x improvement. Top state and industry leadership host a monthly 2-hour “Change Challenge Forums”, which give insight and guidance to team Innovation

Priorities. Final moonshot presentations are presented to State leaders on the final day of the program. Between the instructional days, offsite video instruction from state leadership on CalHR’s 9 Leadership Values teach personal, professional and innovative team growth.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND?

Cal-IPGCA is designed for line staff who are rising stars with management potential, first line supervisors, middle managers, executives, and executive leadership. Each Cal-IPGCA Cohort creates a multi-generational, multi- cultural and multi-professional environment of change, integrating and synergizing participation across all levels of government classroom and work environments. And the 62 Professional Development Hours for full-time trainees meets the State of California’s biennial leadership training requirements. (GC 19995.4.)

WANT TO LEARN MORE?

There are many more reasons why you should attend or send staff to the Cal-IPGCA Cohort 2019. Here is a link to a Cal-IPGCA Fact Sheet of important features and objectives for consideration. The full program and
 online registration are linked here. For more information, you can connect to Cal- IPGCA’s Training website, KollaborNation. Should you have questions, please email program chair, Rebekah Christensen at rchristensen@orasystems.net.

Join us as a Change Leader and Innovator! This is a training program that will continue to produce results for you, your staff and your organization!

The Cal-IPGCA Association has a key role in this year’s Cohort. We think we are going to break new ground in change leadership and innovation! As an NxtGov member, if you want to learn more about the training program and/or join the Cal-IPGCA Association as a member, come to our Taco ‘Bout a Fiesta celebration on June 6 from 5:30-7:30 PM in Midtown. Here’s the flyer for logistics and registration.

NxtGov is proud to partner with Cal-IPGCA! We value the contribution Cal-IPGCA continues to make in pioneering innovation and change in state service. It takes all of us, working together as partners, to support each other’s efforts to assure real change and innovation occurs. Equally important, we are excited to be able to have a

NxtGov member participate in Cohort 2019.

This scholarship will be awarded by NxtGov no later than June 29. You must be a subscribed member of NxtGov to qualify for the scholarship.

Paths to Public Service Featuring Nathalie Nguyen

Paths to Public Service Featuring Nathalie Nguyen

Name: Nathalie Nguyen
Job Title: Council Specialist, Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council
Recommended Reading: George Orwell’s 1987 or any book of the Harry Potter Series
Spirit Animal: Sea Otters
Song stuck in your head right now OR Song you wish you didn’t like: Baby Shark Doo- Doo

What was your path into public service?

When I graduated college, I had dreams of going to law school and working in a corporate firm. Before I made that journey, I ended up applying for a fellowship with a push from a mentor. The decision landed me in Sacramento interning at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. I was only supposed to stay in Sacramento for a year, but 4 years later I’ve made it my home.

During the fellowship I knew nothing about the State application process. I had a mentor who told me that I should apply because he knew the state needed young people to come in and create change. Innovation was highly sought after in the State, and the idea that I could receive a paycheck while making a difference was a highly motivating factor for me.  

After graduation, 35 applications, and 7 interviews I landed a job with the Department of Social Services as an analyst working on issues surrounding foster care. I had no idea what I stepped into because I had no experience with or knew anyone in foster care, but I did know that I was willing to learn and be a part of the conversation. I was most excited about the chance to provide input to policies that affected our youth.

When I was at Social Services, one of the projects that I am proudest of was a social media campaign working to recruit younger demographics to become caregivers, foster parents, and mentors to young adults and children in care. I spearheaded the project, working with a communications company to formulate a message that would resonate with an average person who never thought of themselves as being a caregiver, analyzed social media analytics, and managed various social platforms we used to insert and project our campaign messages. The project made me realize that the State was moving in the direction of innovation, social media, and technology.  

The biggest reason I have stayed in public service (besides the retirement) is the ability to help and advocate for those who otherwise cannot. This is the greatest privilege I feel has been given to me in public service, and I feel blessed everyday to be in this platform. I never take it for granted that this opportunity has landed on my lap.  

What do you do in your current position, and what is something you are working on right now?

I currently work for the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council as the Council Specialist. The Council is comprised of 19 members and includes State agency representatives, stakeholder appointed members, and partners. I staff all 19 members and the 4 other Council staff. In this role, I plan and execute Council meetings, which happen quarterly and are open to the public. My responsibilities include logistics; coordinating with panels, staff, the public, presenters; and anything else that is needed to execute a successful Council meeting.

In between Council meetings, I work behind the scenes to ensure the Council’s work is continuing when it is not outward facing to the public. This involves working with the Council member’s key staff on day-to-day projects. Together we work to ensure that various state agencies representing the Council are meeting state mandates and have policies in place that are consistent with helping efforts to end homelessness.

The job is rewarding because I feel like I am making a difference in what feels like the State’s biggest problem currently. The crisis is never ending, but I am happy to be contributing to an important cause and conversation. Everyday is a challenge, but a good one.

What cautionary tip would you give to someone looking for a job in state service?

Expect to be patient. The State unfortunately is slow when it comes to processing applications and can often take months. Some departments will process applications, schedule the interview and exam, but may not make their decision until weeks later. If you aren’t in a hurry to get a job with the State, the right fit will come with patience and time on your side.

What resources/advice/practice did you find most helpful when applying for jobs in public service?

I always encourage people that they should apply to jobs that interest them or have a passion for. Never apply for a job just to have a job. Life is more rewarding when your job doesn’t feel like a chore.

Take the time to look around the various state websites. Sometimes it’s just a simple google. Read about the work they are doing on their website. Does their mission align with yours? Do their values align with yours? Do they advocate for platforms that you truly believe in?

Once you take the time to research the department, visit their job recruitment page. More than likely they are hiring and if not, put it on your list and check back frequently.

If you can or know someone who works there – maybe take the time to schedule an informational interview to find out if the working environment is a good fit for you. Even if you don’t know anyone, don’t be afraid to ask during your interview what the working environment is like, what the team hat you will be working with is like, and what type of manager the person believes they are. Interviews and job applications aren’t just about finding a job, but also ensuring that both parties are the right fit for each other.

If you have resources outside of the web, use them. It’s a simple ask if anyone is hiring when you meet someone whose work aligns with yours. They can refer you to jobs or keep you in mind when they come up.

The very most important thing in looking for a public service job: PATIENCE. Be patient. The right job and right fit will come along when the time is right.


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Searching for the Invisible

Searching for the Invisible

NxtGov’s Participation in the Homeless Point-in-Time Count

By Kelly Joy, NxtGov Member

In January, the Community Engagement Team at NxtGov participated in Sacramento’s Point-in-Time count of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness throughout the region. The PIT count relies on hundreds of local volunteers to canvas set geographic areas throughout the county, and every volunteer directly contributes to making the PIT count as accurate and successful as possible. The information obtained during the PIT count gives not only valuable insight into the needs of a vulnerable population, but also potentially increases state and federal funding resources available in the community. Without enough trained volunteers, there are fewer people counted, which means the stories of those people are not heard and their needs are less likely to be met. NxtGov volunteers joined with staff members of the Homeless Coordinating and Financing Council and other representatives of state and local government to walk the streets of Sacramento and count the number of people experiencing unsheltered homeless. I was one of the NxtGov members who were proud to participate in such an important event for the community, and happy that our efforts helped make this important event a successful one.

There were dozens of groups of volunteers that walked the streets of Sacramento during the 2019 PIT count. The group I walked with surveyed a northern region in Sacramento’s “grid” area. We interviewed almost twenty people who were sleeping without shelter. We encountered even more that we were unable to interview.

One of the first people we interviewed was sitting on a bench at the light rail station. She said that one thing she would want to change about the homelessness system is the judgment and lack of dignity for people experiencing homelessness. “Sometimes we need a hug to get through it all. Just someone to care,” she said. She added that she felt blessed by God to be where she was in that moment to talk to people who cared to hear her story.

There were two young adults who didn’t “look homeless” by a stereotypical definition, but we interviewed them to make sure. They were both living on the streets. One got emotional and asked if we knew somewhere he could take a shower. I thanked them for their time when we finished the interviews and told them the information they provided would really make a difference. “You promise?” one of the men asked. I replied that I was positive that it would make a difference, and he seemed to be a little reassured by that.

We walked past a man trying to sleep in a planted area next to the sidewalk. He got up and offered to answer our questions. Our conversation was interrupted a number of times for him to answer questions I hadn’t asked him. After my initial confusion, it became clear that he was answering questions from another voice that I couldn’t hear. My heart sank even further when he said that he became homeless four days ago.

We encountered a veteran who responded “You’re doing the homeless count? Oh yeah, it’s January again.” He had been homeless long enough to witness many PIT counts, which take place once every two years. He had also grown up in foster care. I couldn’t help but think of the systems we have that are meant to protect people like him.

We happened across a woman who was living without shelter in a family of five, a rarity to find during the PIT count. She seemed to have a bright spirit, but there were moments during the interview that her answers felt like they carried more weight. “I have been homeless before, but it’s taking me a bit longer to come out of it this time for some reason.”

We encountered another young woman shortly after. The woman suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder due to physical family violence. She was also visibly pregnant.

We encountered a number of people living without shelter. There were a number of times that only one person out of our group of four saw someone. I couldn’t help but wonder to myself how many others were there that we weren’t able to find. Every person we did find, however, will not only contribute to our understanding of who is experiencing homelessness in our state, but also made a lasting impression on all of the volunteers who participated on the night on the count.

I don’t know the names of the people I surveyed since the surveys were anonymous, but I don’t expect that I will ever forget their faces. They were all completely different people with varied needs and experiences, but all were in a very vulnerable situation in that moment. I was glad to be part of a group that was willing to look and see the humanity in what is often considered an “invisible” problem.

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Government needs to close racial pay gaps in its workforce

Government needs to close racial pay gaps in its workforce

14%. That’s the estimated racial/ethnic pay gap between employees of color and White employees across California’s civil service workforce, a new report finds. While that may seem like a relatively small difference, that 14% pay gap can add up to a salary or wage disparity of approximately $10,000 each year.

The problem becomes only worse when one compares the average pay of historically underrepresented minorities (URM, which includes Black, Hispanic/Latin@, and American Indian communities), and females of color with the average pay of higher paid males, such as White and Asian males. In fact, analysis of publicly available data show that pay gaps between some females of color and White males reach an upwards of 36%.

What is driving these race and gender pay inequities?

This analysis, prepared by Hinnaneh Qazi, as part of her UC Berkeley Masters of Public Policy Graduate capstone project, in partnership with the California’s Health in All Policies Task Force, shows that the these disparities are largely a result of overrepresentation of females of color in part-time and seasonal work, concentration of URM employees in lower paying occupations as opposed to higher paying occupations groups, and White employees being more likely to hold management positions, especially the highest paid management positions. Using supplemental data from the U.S. Census American Community Survey (ACS), the paper also illustrates that pay inequality persists even after controlling for educational attainment.   

Moving forward, the State has the opportunity to investigate what is causing those inequities – and examine underlying issues related to recruitment, outreach, retention, culture, and/or promotion. NxtGov supports work like this through our program areas, but it takes more than that. We believe our workforce should equitably reflect the diversity of our state, especially in Sacramento, one of the most diverse cities in the nation.

California is a leader in shedding greater light on the State’s gender pay gap. They’ve also taken significant measures to mitigate it, from the passage of the California Fair Pay Act (SB 358) in 2015 and a bill in 2017 (AB 168) which bans employers from inquiring about a job candidate’s salary history. This year, members of NxtGov participated in unfocus groups applying UX principles to assess the use of current state tools that could be improved to increase professional development.

It’s now time to take on racial pay inequities in addition to and in intersection with gender equity – and other cities, states, and the federal public sector should follow suit.

To view the full report, click here.

 


¹State demographic data only captures an employee’s sex (whether an employee reports being male or female), and does not collect gender identify information.

DISCLAIMER: This is an unofficial organization that is not connected to any one government entity.

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