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Public Sector Career Pathways & Advice

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Think about the most important things that make our society run - the Public Sector will have something to do with almost all of them.

Working in the public sector means you’ll be able to develop a career that has a real impact on how the country is run. The variety is huge, taking in everything from the police force to hospitals through to museums, and to local and central government. Top employers within the public sector include the BBC and the NHS, and the sector employs around 5.5 million people in the UK.

Your local council, for example, incorporates a range of positions, from the people who tend to parks, to those who work in sports facilities. These type of jobs are all about providing the public with the services required to keep our societies running.

As a job sector it offers a wide range of different careers, with hundreds of professions to choose from – many with the added bonus of helping communities and/or individuals to thrive.

Other benefits to working in the public sector include a generous pension, the availability of flexitime, and the opportunity to train and progress quickly within your particular industry.

Jobs in the public sector may be subject to changing government policies, but it's generally a secure sector to work in. The variety of job roles you can have makes it appealing to a wide range of people with a variety of skills.

There are is a huge amount of variety within the public sector – including within the following areas:

  • Charities

  • Public services

  • Technology

  • Finance

  • Project Management

  • Teaching and education

  • Health and social care

  • Central and local government

In the UK a major player in the public sector is the Civil Service, which is involved in helping the government of the day implement its policies across many areas, from policing and health to transport and education. Roles within the Civil Service include those within Central Government, the Houses of Parliament and the Diplomatic Service.

The Civil Service, and the sectors mentioned above, include a variety of roles – such as marketing, HR, finance and IT, meaning the job opportunities offered at every level of the Public Sector are numerous.


With a wide range of jobs in this sector, people can match their skills to the job that best fits them. You'll almost always be dealing with the public, so good people skills and sensitivity to the needs and concerns of others is very important.

Progression opportunities

Because many roles within the Public Sector are essential to the smooth running of daily life, career progression is clearly defined. Almost everyone working within the Public Sector will be able to see opportunity for growth based upon bands or stages, allowing clear markers that should be achieved in order to be eligible for promotion. Of course, the specifics of this vary hugely across the sector, from teaching and healthcare to council worker to firefighter and police officer.

The Telegraph describes career progression in the sector as such: “Organisations based in the public sector recognise the need for continual education. They encourage staff to train and develop their personal and workplace skills, for them to get the most out of the job roles, this makes it a very appealing sector to work in, as quality training is provided for all employees.”

Career development

Specific career development opportunities will vary depending on which part of the vast Public Sector you work within.

In teaching, for example, you may be able to take on extra courses that allow you to progress to head of year, head of department, or head of the school. In the NHS or the police force, clear gradings will show you what you need to do to move to the next level in your career. In the Civil Service, you will be given five days every year to dedicate to learning and development, allowing you to upskill in areas that are relevant for you. Training for all these positions will be as varied as the jobs themselves.

Earning potential

Public Sector salaries vary hugely, depending on the specific area and job role that you have. A social care worker, for example, will earn a very different salary to those working in Central Government. Despite this, according to the Graduate Recruitment Bureau, over the past few years an increased attention on working conditions within the Public Sector has seen the pay gap between it and the private sector narrow significantly.

Here are the average salaries for a selection of Public Sector jobs, including with a few years’ experience:

Civil servant: £23,000
Accountant: £36,493
Solicitor: £37,766
Charity officer: £25,000
Social worker: £27,732
Finance officer: £27,732
Police officer: £30,930
Firefighter: £28,487
Army officer: £48,528
Soldier: £27,534
Youth worker: £20,344
Communications officer: £24,119

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Qualification requirements & subjects to study

Humanities and social science degrees can qualify you for roles across the huge number of Public Sector areas that require softer and less technical skills, including any areas that require communication, teamwork or diplomacy – i.e., most of them!

If you want to work within the Civil Service, a masters in an area like social policy or international relations, as well as foreign language skills, might also be of benefit.

Of course, certain career areas (those within the NHS, for example, or in teaching) will require specific subjects to be studied – whether at undergraduate level or with a training course afterwards. You should look into these areas individually.

How to get there

Many public sector organisations, for example the Civil Service, have structured graduate schemes, which last for around two years. To get a place on one of these schemes you will have to go through a process of application forms, interviews and – more than likely – cognitive tests.

If you have studied a specific degree, such as nursing, you will be able to apply for jobs that are directly related to that area without having to take on further qualifications.

Specialist careers, such as teaching, also have defined career routes – you should investigate these individually. There are various routes that you can do to pursue a teaching career, and all will have the same result when completed.

The variety of jobs in this sector is huge, and for many – for example those within social care – you will need to show your dedication by working with children or adult learners before you apply for job roles or training courses.

Contact local schools, hospitals, council or other public-serving organisations and ask if you can spend some time volunteering or shadowing a member of staff – this will help with any job or training programme application.

Industry Bodies

College of Policing
The Police Service
The British Council
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Get Into Teaching
NHS Health Careers
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health Officers
British Association of Social Workers
HM Customs and Excise
Chartered Institute of Housing
Inland Revenue
Association for Public Service Excellence