High school senior Davion Johnson’s initial impression of a government job was clerical workers shuffling papers behind a counter. Seemed a bit dull, a dead end.

But after spending Thursday morning talking to a city building inspector, a county 911 manager, city naturalists and IT staffers, Johnson was forming a new opinion: “There’s a lot of things I’m interested in here.”

Johnson was one of nearly 300 high school students at Maplewood’s first government jobs career fair, co-hosted by the city and the Sundance Family Foundation. Minnesota, Ramsey County, St. Paul, Maplewood and other east metro cities showcased careers ranging from public works engineer to building inspector and law enforcement officer.

“Almost any job you can get in the private sector, you can get with local, county and state government,” said Maplewood spokesman Joe Sheeran.

With the job market tight, cities and counties are more aggressively recruiting applicants using job fairs, internships, and stronger partnerships with community colleges, universities and nonprofits that offer job training.

“We need to get more aggressive and innovative about how we are advertising our jobs,” Sheeran said.

Cities and counties also want to plant the seed for government careers earlier, and with a more diverse group of people than before.

“Creating curiosity in high school — it’s no longer a ‘nice to have,’ it’s a ‘got to have,’ ” said Hennepin County Chief Human Resources Officer Michael Rossman.

Hennepin and Ramsey counties together employ nearly 13,000 people, often in critical roles such as 911 dispatchers and child protection workers. Metro cities employ thousands more.

Hennepin County estimates that 27 percent of its entire county workforce will retire in the next 10 years. Ramsey County also is feeling the pinch.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve had a lot of people retiring,” said Jennifer Otley, Ramsey County’s human resources manager. “We have a lot of needs in many different career areas.”

At Thursday’s event in the Maplewood Community Center, Joe Dillenburg, a Ramsey County emergency communications supervisor, chatted with a steady stream of students about the different jobs available at the county’s 911 dispatch center.

“We are looking for people with good communication skills who can handle technology and our schedule. We are on 24 hours a day,” Dillenburg told a young woman.

Sharper recruiting and training programs run in partnership with local nonprofits are now helping them fill those jobs, Otley said.

Positions challenging to fill include property tax appraiser, human services worker and building operations and facilities manager. But some public sector jobs are more surprising.

Ann Hutchinson, lead naturalist at the Maplewood Nature Center, spent Thursday morning visiting with students and showing off some of the center’s collection of furs, feathers and bones.

“A lot of people don’t realize we are working for the city government,” Hutchinson said. “We have great city natural resources to manage and take care of here.”