There are a huge range of roles and organisations within the Public Sector, all working to improve society for us all. You could be doing anything from fighting fires to saving lives. Read on to find out how to apply, what experience you need and the skills you should be developing…
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What is the Public Sector?
The Public Sector is, quite literally, the backbone of society. Often referred to as just ‘the Government’, the Public Sector is everything that is managed and organised by the state – not just the government’s political arm, but our health service, judiciary and education system as well.
Far from being one homogeneous organisation, the Public Sector is incredibly broad and varied, and can lead to many different career paths.
The Public Sector accounts for a sizeable chunk of the UK workforce too – over a sixth of workers are employed in the industry, totalling 5.4 million people. However, public sector jobs have been falling year on year since the 2008 financial crash as the government make cuts to save money, and there are now substantially fewer jobs than there were ten years ago. But there are also big skills gaps in the sector and in certain areas there are shortages, so there are still plenty of opportunities for graduate employment.
Over a sixth of workers are employed in the industry, totalling 5.4 million people
The sector can be split into two main strands – central and local government. Local government has faced the most significant cuts and now accounts for 2.18 million jobs, while central government (the Civil Service) employs 2.95 million people.
Beyond this, there are a number of other big employers in the Public Sector (all still under the control of government). These include the likes of the army, the BBC, the NHS, the Office for National Statistics, the Bank of England, the National Audit Office and the National Probation service.
There are a huge number of different roles within the public sector, and the skills and qualifications they require vary widely. We’ve broken down the main public sector workplaces and the types of roles they employ:
As I’m sure you can see, there is no hard and fast rule for what qualifications you’ll need for a career in the public sector. If you want to become a doctor, there’s no escaping the fact you’ll need a medical degree, but for other roles, such as a Civil Servant position, there most often isn’t a specific degree prerequisite. For some roles you don’t need a degree at all.
There often isn’t a specific degree prerequisite
Certain degree subjects, such as social sciences like politics and sociology, are particularly favoured in the industry, but are by no means the only degree subjects accepted. Also be aware that for many positions you’ll need to take specific oral, written or physical examinations to qualify, so bear this in mind when applying.
The Public Sector is often at the heart of political debate, being under the direct control of the current government. In recent years, with the 2008 financial crash and recession, jobs in the public sector have been cut and funding reduced. This has led to heavier workloads and more challenging work environments for those who remain in employment.
The Public Sector pay gap is often in the news; the government had capped Public Sector salary pay rises at 1%, but following the threat of widespread strike actions from various groups, these restrictions were relaxed. However discontent remains, and the government still faces pressure to introduce pay rises.
Jobs in the public sector have been cut and funding reduced
There are also major skills shortages in the Public Sector, particularly in IT and technology as those with these skills often seek higher salaries in the private sector, so this is another major challenge the sector is working to address.
Another factor affecting the sector is the increased outsourcing of services to private companies. For example, the government outsources much of its security provision to G4S, including security in prisons and detention centres. This again has, in turn, led to a decrease in available jobs in the public sector.
Getting work experience in the Public Sector can be tricky. Unlike private organisations who make their own rules, government organisations must abide by overarching policy, which means they can’t take on work experience students on an ad hoc basis.
There are some formal schemes in place, such as structured internships or year-long sandwich placements, and although they’re quite competitive, they’re definitely worth applying for. Organisations such as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and GCHQ organise these, so do your research and you never know what you might find.
For other organisations, such as the NHS and fire service, it is obviously much harder to get work experience without being a trainee, but there are opportunities to get involved with related volunteering programmes.
Volunteering with St John’s Ambulance or Teddy Bear Hospital is a great way to get experience which will stand you in good stead for a career in the health service, and there are various other political, campaigning and volunteering groups at university which provide useful experience for those wanting to get into other areas.
There’s also the Summer Diversity Internship Programme with the Civil Service which is aimed at disadvantaged, disabled and ethnic minority students and graduates. There’s also the similar week-long Early Diversity Internship Programme aimed at first-year students.
Check out your local council as well, as they often run volunteering schemes for people wanting to get involved. Or look out for part-time jobs in the sector which you can do alongside your studies.
There are myriad ways of gaining the work experience you need, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get on the exact work experience scheme you want.
Pros and Cons
|Social value - You’ll be working to make the country a better place for the general public.||Multiple stakeholders - You’re often trying to please multiple people at once which can be tricky to navigate.
|Team spirit - You’ll be placed within a team of people all working together to achieve a common goal.||Salaries - Annual pay is typically lower than in the private sector.
|Career growth opportunities - There’s lots of potential for career development and moving between different roles (and countries).||Job security - This isn’t always guaranteed.
|More flexible working conditions and friendly work atmosphere. ||Strict applications - Some organisations enforce strict nationality entry requirements.
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