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Where Can A Career In Public services Take You?

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Public Sector workers are vital for keeping the UK running. As of December 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics, there were 5.35 million public sector employees in the country. While this number includes teachers, nurses, doctors and police officers, there are a whole host of other public service roles to consider in local and national government, or working for public bodies.

Whether it is working for the NHS as an accountant (CPFA), HMRC as a tax official, or as a local council officer, public service roles can be highly varied and can allow you to make significant contributions to the running of the country. Public sector positions can be stressful and highly challenging, as they can be high profile or involve working to strict deadlines on projects. They can also be very rewarding. Government roles can also quite often be recruited on a fixed-term contract basis (e.g. for 6 months or 1 year).

- Civil Service positions can include:
- Policy Officers/Advisors
- Accountancy & Internal Audit
- Communications
- Procurement
- IT & Data Management

Local government roles can cover:

- Housing
- Emergency Services
- Education
- Social Services
- Property & Planning
- ‘Corporate’ Services (e.g. Law, IT, Accountancy/Financial Planning)

Public sector roles can broadly be split into either central government (Civil Service) or various layers of local government (from local council level to roles working for the Greater London Authority or Scottish Government). Alongside these there are various national bodies whose roles are counted as being part of the public service (e.g. the BBC, Charity Commission, and the Office for National Statistics).

Each organisation will have its own recruitment strategy and methods. For central government roles applications are handled via a central portal, there is also the Civil Service Fast Stream (a more selective accelerated graduate recruitment and training programme), while the Local Government Association has its own dedicated graduate recruitment programme.

All public service employers have implemented policies to ensure better representation of minority groups among their employees, and this is under constant review.

Skills & interests required

Different local and national government bodies will usually have their own hiring criteria and specified experience for specific roles (for example, roles the Government Statistical Service require either a degree in a statistically-based subject or demonstrable previous working experience with statistical modelling techniques). Therefore it is essential to read through the details of the job description carefully to make sure that you are aware of all of the requirements.

As part of the application process applicants will be tested on their organisational and reasoning skills through a mixture of online tests and at in-person interviews and assessment days.

As part of a role in this area you'll need the ability to work respectfully in a diverse team, and you'll need to be committed to success.

Key skills and character traits across all public service roles include:

- Attention to detail
- Communication
- Motivation
- Organisation
- Problem Solving
- Project Management

Typical Career Progression Routes for Graduates in Public services

Due to the variety of Public Service positions, progression can be extremely varied. The structured graduate recruitment programmes follow a set 2 or 4-year cycle, with rotations across different government departments. Typically you will then specialise within a specific government department and/or functional skill-set (e.g. policy or accountancy).

Tips for getting into the field

Book a meeting with your careers advisor to discuss your interest in working in public services, they will be able to give you tonnes of advice and resources about the different areas of the sector you are interested in exploring.
The Civil Service Fast Track scheme offers 2 paid internships, which can be an excellent introduction to working for the government.

The graduate recruitment programmes tend to run on an annual basis, so it pays to make note of when the applications windows open and close - if not you may well end up having to wait a year to apply!

All government jobs are posted with detailed descriptions of expected competencies and responsibilities for the role – make sure you read the documentation provided before applying.

Keep up with current affairs! While you won’t be explicitly tested on your knowledge of government policy as part of the interview process, it will help your application if you have a level of understanding of current developments in government service.

Earning potential

Government jobs are strictly tied to salary bands (with an increased London weighting applied across the board). Starting salaries can range from £15,000 to £28,000 per annum, depending on the nature and location of the position.

On completion of the Civil Service Fast Track scheme employees will earn between £45,000 and £55,000.

Typically government departments will review staff performance on a regular basis, which forms the framework by which employees can get promoted.

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

Eligibility for the graduate recruitment schemes typically depends on achieving a 2:2 or above undergraduate degree, although specific degrees are not specified.

For other roles there can be specific academic requirements (e.g. an economics degree at 2:1 or higher for an economics-focused position). It is always important to check the details of the job posting to make sure that you match the criteria.

Useful resources

Civil Service job search
Civil Service Fast Stream
Local Government Association Graduate Development Programme