What comes to mind when someone tells you they have a government job? Perhaps your imagination leads you to an office, just a couple floors down from the mayor’s office, with desks buried in paperwork. As a matter of fact, not all careers with the government mean sitting behind a desk from 9–5; and with spring underway, finding summer employment with the government that gives you more experience outdoors just might change your initial perception.
Owen Croy, manager of parks in Surrey, BC, says there are ample opportunities forstudent summer employment in the city’s parks system. “Very often we’re able to attract people when they’re doing seasonal work in the summer time and we work with some of those students for several years,” he says. And sometimes, Croy explains, those summer jobs can lead to permanent employment in the future. “We can evaluate them and they can evaluate us. We can see what the fit is and who has the passion, then those people often have as good a chance (or better than others) in getting work for the city.”
As manager of parks, Croy’s responsibilities are endless: he manages anything from public beaches, athletic fields, cemeteries, to thousands of acres of parkland. (So yes, not just “parks” like his title suggests.) “I get out of the office every day but sometimes that’s on my way to the office,” he says. “I go by different park sites each day, so I can see and keep in touch with what’s going on in the community—our new development sites, areas where we’ve had problems and issues, and that sort of thing.” Croy says that although he gets to visit different sites each day, it’s the supervisors, groundskeepers, and technicians that spend the most time outdoors.
For students and new grads interested in outdoor entry-level employment with the government, Croy suggests a position as a parks groundskeeper. Aside from the diploma and degree requirements, (with a bonus if you graduated from a horticulture program in college or university), a personal skill like leadership is an important trait to have. “What we want to do is look for people who demonstrate some capacity of leadership,” he says. “We’re looking for people who have a passion for working with the public...have great customer service skills, [and] people who can convey their passion for beautiful things to the public that we serve.”
And if you don’t have a knack for gardening, there are other opportunities that await you. Although the majority of time is spent planning and negotiating indoors, a career as an urban designer might just be in your best interest if you have an exceptional imagination and a passion for city streetscapes. “There’s lots of people who see something and can’t imagine it [being] anything else,” says Leo DeSorcy, manager of urban design in Toronto’s North York district. “So what makes an urban designer or a landscape architect is they go to some place and they can imagine various futures for it and they can draw pictures of it.”
On occasion, urban designers venture outdoors to visit sites, observe the city, and attend public meetings, but it is mainly the job of staff who do capital construction that spend most of their workdays outdoors. “We usually work with our colleagues in transportation services and parks,” says DeSorcy. “We get a small amount of capital in our capital budgets and what we do is we take relatively utilitarian streetscapes...add our money into it and make it a more interesting place.”
As an urban designer, he says it’s a profession for those who aren’t shy. “You have to learn how to speak everybody else’s language,” he says. “You have to talk to the engineers, the water guys, and traffic guys to learn enough of their language to speak to them and understand their issues.” To top that off, DeSorcy says it’s a requirement to be able to draw either by computer or by hand; (it is a design profession, after all).
As an imaginative individual with a passion for the city where he’s spent the last 25 years working for, DeSorcy shares his love for the job and says “transforming the city is about making it greener, more pedestrian-friendly, more connected, so at some point it stops being a job and it’s just how you see the world—although it makes your partner or spouse crazy because, at some point, you can’t just walk down the street.”