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What Is Public Works?

May 18, 2015

By Marcus Thomas, APWA-MN Director-Consultant

I was recently recapping with an APWA-MN volunteer, his experience in promoting APWA during Hennepin Technical College's 2015 Spring Career Fair.

Our Chapter's Diversity Committee chose to partner with HTC, in consideration of its strong and established public works program, as well as its relatively high population of minority students. This career fair, however, was open to all students and all career fields that the college represents. While the chapter's objective for our inaugural participation in such a career fair was to capture the attention of those students in the public works program, we found our participation to head in a slightly different direction, really catering to those non-public works students by responding to the repeated question that was asked, "What is public works?"

Wow! What a different opportunity this had actually become! HTC has a broad spectrum of academic programs, beyond their quality public works program -- programs that prepare students for careers in the fields of business, CAD technology, building engineering and maintenance, environmental health and safety, and automotive technology. Can anyone tell me if these fields relate to public works? Of course they do! And therein lay the first opportunity that was put before us as participants in this general career fair.

Our volunteers were able to answer the question, "What is public works?" and the variety of students in attendance were able to relate our profession to their own academic studies and interests.

And for those who might not have had a career interest in public works, our second opportunity became one of public awareness. The public needs to understand how fundamental our work is to their daily lives. With that understanding comes appreciation, and with that appreciation comes political support and public funding; all of that rounding full-circle to a higher quality of life, and even greater levels of public awareness.

While I am unsure at the moment if APWA-MN's attendance at the Hennepin Technical College spring career fair netted a new employee for one of our member agencies, I am confident that our volunteers made a positive impression on those students and that they made a positive advancement for our profession. I thank you for that!

So, the next time you're engaging a student, a neighbor, or a family member, and they ask you, "What is public works?" recognize that while this may be an easy question for you to answer, it is yet another opportunity for us to recruit for our profession, and to increase public appreciation and support for services and infrastructure that we understand to be essential to a higher quality of life.

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