Introduction to the Public Sector
The public sector provides a range of government services. Every country has its own public sector and range of related careers; here, we’ll focus on the public sector in the UK.
The public sector in the UK can be broken down into three main areas: central government and the civil service, regional and devolved government, and local governments. Each has their own functions and responsibilities, although their roles are often interlinked.
Overall, the public sector employs just under 6 million people in a wide range of roles. In England, local government is one of the largest employers, employing more than 1.6 million people, and around 460,000 people are employed in central government roles.
The public sector offers a wide range of career paths, including law enforcement, local government, social services, civil service and national security. As a result, it’s one of the most exciting, diverse and rewarding fields of employment for new graduates.
What roles are open to me?
The public sector encompasses a wide range of roles and responsibilities - from emergency service workers to teachers, analysts, IT experts, policy makers, social workers and administrators.
If you’re particularly keen to work in central government, you’ll find there are a number of roles open to you that fall into one of these three categories:
- Corporate services delivery. Provides key services to departments that are fundamental to the successful conduct of their business, such as human resources, finance, IT and communications.
- Operational delivery. Focuses on the provision of top quality services direct to the public, ensuring excellence in projects and processes, and often has significant management responsibilities.
- Policy delivery. Research, analysis and the development of government policy.
Another popular choice for new graduates is The Civil Service Fast Stream, which covers a range of departments. There are a number of graduate entry schemes you can apply for, depending on the field you wish to specialise in.
National public sector and government services employers in the UK include the Cabinet Office, Child Support Agency, Crown Prosecution Service, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Forestry Commission, HM Revenue & Customs, MI5, the Ministry of Defence, NHS (National Health Service), Teach First, The Police, The Treasury and UKAEA (UK Atomic Energy Authority).
Local public sector and government services include Essex County Council, Islington Council, Westminster Council, Kent County Council and Transport for London (TFL).
What qualifications and skills do I need?
For entry into the public sector, you will generally need a 2:2 degree in any discipline, although this varies depending on the role in question. The public sector focuses strongly on soft skills as opposed to results, and you’ll need to demonstrate key competencies including time management, communication skills, creative thinking, leaderships skills and the ability to work well both alone and as part of a team.
School leavers and non-graduates can apply to enter the civil service in a clerical role, such as administrative assistant or administrative officer. Every department sets its own requirements and you’ll need a certain number of GCSEs grades A-C, although equivalent qualifications may be accepted. As with graduate roles, you’ll also be required to demonstrate core competencies, including teamwork, numeracy and communication skills.
The public sector promotes training and on-the-job development in all departments, and throughout your career you’ll benefit from a wide range of training opportunities and structured career development programmes.
The application process for public sector roles can be slow and time-consuming. The process varies depending on the role you’re applying for, though it will generally follow some or all of the steps below:
- Online application form
- Online questionnaire, numerical reasoning tests and verbal reasoning tests
- One day assessment centre
- Final interview
In many cases you will also need to pass security checks prior to an offer being finalised.
The average salary varies depending on the role you apply for. For graduates, the average starting salary is circa £22,400, rising to around £40,000 after several years, depending on experience and promotion.
Non-graduates can expect to earn a starting salary of between £13,000 and £15,000, thoughr this will often rise to £20,000+ as you gain experience. You’ll also benefit from on-the-job training and the opportunity to apply for roles of a higher level/pay grade throughout your career.
Are there any downsides?
The downsides of working in the public sector depend on your role. Senior roles in central government, social workers and NHS employees can often work long hours dealing with emergencies, and their roles and responsibilities can be high stress.
Outside of this, most roles within the public sector are also highly bureaucratic, which can slow down decision making and be quite frustrating. You’ll also find that your salary may grow quite slowly compared to other sectors, and your earning potential will almost certainly be capped.
Is it right for me?
There are lots of positives to a career in the public sector. These include job security, flexitime, on-the-job training, a good pension scheme and generous annual leave. It can also be rewarding on a personal and ideological level, as you’ll be working for the greater good and may be involved in decision-making or services that positively affect the well being of your community and country. If you think a career in the public sector might be for you, visit our public sector forum to find out more.