comscore Column: Public-sector workers serve public good | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Editorial | Island Voices

Column: Public-sector workers serve public good

  • Helen Yu is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Public Administration Program.

    Helen Yu is an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Public Administration Program.

  • Morgen S. Johansen, is department chairperson/professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Public Administration Program.

    Morgen S. Johansen, is department chairperson/professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Public Administration Program.

The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the importance of effective public service in Hawaii and beyond for many during these unprecedented times. The dedicated professionals, who are often unappreciated and, at times, easy targets for a frustrated public, are redefining the “front lines” and what it means to serve the public good.

This is important because the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may not be known for weeks, months or even years, although the consequences on many aspects of daily life are progressing day-by-day ranging from community health to procurement of goods and services, and from public safety to intergovernmental coordination.

To illustrate, our public sector workers include the sanitation workers who take away our trash and our recycling, which has increased now that most of us are adhering to the “stay at home” order; our facilities maintenance folks who are considered essential to maintaining our public buildings and outdoor spaces; our public school teachers, who are juggling their own family responsibilities while also working hard educating our students who often do not have the basic tools for distance learning such as a computer or steady access to the internet; the Department of Transportation employees who are maintaining our roads, oftentimes in the dark of night, to minimize their effect on traffic; and the first responders who put their lives on the line every day to tend to our health and protect us from harm.

The desire to help our communities and make them better is one of Hawaii’s strengths. Every day, we see examples of this. That desire to help, that public service motivation, is what drives individuals to public and nonprofit service.

Perhaps even more noteworthy is that these individuals choose to work in public and nonprofit service even though they are often paid less than their counterparts in the private sector here in Hawaii.

In our jobs as educators of the next generation of public and nonprofit leaders, we see the commitment our students have to improving their communities through government and nonprofit agencies.

For example, the student who works as an engineer but wants to learn how to lead their agency into the future. The student who works with the homeless population and wants to innovate on how to better serve the needs of their clients. The facilities and maintenance worker who wants to learn how to streamline and update their agency for the 21st century. And the student veteran who did multiple tours overseas but now wants to pivot into the nonprofit sector to help fellow veterans better transition into fulfilling careers. These students work full-time, come to class at night, and grow and raise their families.

As we think about what life will look like after COVID-19, we know that Hawaii’s public administrators are dedicated, smart and hard-working, and are key to our state’s recovery and progress. In fact, most research suggests that a strong and diverse public sector brings together participants from a variety of backgrounds, resulting in creative problem-solving, more equitable policies, and enhanced community engagement.

Last week marked National Public Service Recognition Week — please join us in thanking our public and nonprofit servants for all that they do for us and our communities.

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