In this video, Scott Pepe talks his time on the Learning from Work Experience module, and how it translated into his graduate roles as a Senior Parliamentary Assistant at the House of Commons, and an Office Manager for an MP.
There are many general skills that will benefit you in any sector that you choose to work in, but we have highlighted some that are especially important to a career in the Public Sector.
- Project Management
- Financial skill
- Analysis and Problem Solving
- Planning and Organisation
Public sector employment has continued to rise throughout 2020/2021 with an estimated 5.67 million employees. This accounts for nearly a sixth of all those in paid work. The public sector is wide ranging and is responsible for providing all public services in the UK from education and social care, emergency services and healthcare, to housing and refuse collection.
Office for National Statistics (March 2021)
Below are some key sub-sectors. Click on each section to open a drop down menu containing more information.
Bear in mind that the Public Sector involves all roles that are funded by the government, so the sector is not limited only to the key sub categories below. If there is a specific field you wish to work in, do your own research and you will likely be able to find a role within the public sector that fulfils it.
The Civil Service is a politically impartial group who work in central government departments, agencies, and non-departmental government bodies (NDPBs). They are independent of the politically appointed government, and provide services directly to people all over the country.
Some of the services they provide include:
- paying benefits and pensions
- running employment services
- running prisons
- issuing driving licences.
They also have staff working on policy development and implementation, including analysts, project managers, lawyers and economists.
More information on what they do can be found here.
There are several routes into the Civil Service.
The most well-known is probably the Civil Service Fast Stream, a graduate scheme that provides training in various departments of the Civil Service. You can find more information on the Fast Stream under the Training & Qualifications header, or by watching our interview with a current Fast Stream participant Phoebe Topping, found below.
It is also possible to move directly into a Civil Service role through conventional job applications. There are both permanent and fixed-term contracts available, full-time or part-time. You can start a job search now.
There are student placements available, including the Early Diversity Internship Programme and the Summer Diversity Internship Programme, which are designed to improve the accessibility of Civil Service careers for ethnic minority students, disabled students, and students from under-represented socio-economic backgrounds.
Working for Parliament involves supporting and helping improve the central democratic institution of the UK. Central Government is a huge organisation, which includes staff working directly for MPs or Lords, as well as many different offices and departments throughout Parliament.
Graduate positions are found in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. They include clerkships, specialists, clerical officers and Hansard Reporters.
There are many roles in Parliament, providing information, support services and human resources in order to ensure the democratic system runs smoothly.
There are several routes into Central Government.
The Houses of Parliament Fast Stream is a graduate recruitment scheme that exists alongside the Civil Service equivalent. It is a 4 year programme that offers placements in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. More information can be found on the Fast Stream website, or under the Training & Qualifications header.
Direct applications for many job roles are also possible, and you can begin your job search now.
The Police Force is a significant employer in the Public Sector. The first thing many think of is a Police Constable, but there are also many other diverse roles available within the force. These include police Inspectors, Superintendents, Specialist advisors and Researchers, and conventional office roles such as HR and Finance. The College of Policing website provides more information on the routes into these individual roles.
Standard job applications can be made to individual police forces, and a list of UK police forces can be found here.
The Police Force also has a graduate programme called PoliceNow. It is designed to teach key skills related to the police as well as wider leadership and life skills. More information can be found under the Training & Qualifications tab, or on their website.
Local Government is a large employer of SSIS graduates, and is made up of a huge number of roles within local councils. Local Government is responsible for delivery and managing services for local communities, as well as informing central government on local policy and strategy issues.
The National Graduate Development Programme is the Local Government’s scheme for graduates. It is a 2 year management development programme designed to develop future leaders in the public sector. It involves placements in key areas of local councils, as well as training and opportunity to make a positive impact. More information can be found under the Training & Qualifications tab or on the NGDP website.
You can also apply directly for many roles, and you can start your search now on the Local Government Association website.
Training & qualifications
There are a variety of opportunities for gaining additional qualifications and training that will aid you in seeking employment in the Public Sector.
Open the drop down menus below to find out more about some of the most well-known options.
The Civil Service Fast Stream has a long and intensive application process, but you shouldn’t let this put you off. It is designed to test for key competencies that will be essential for work in the Civil Service, so just be yourself and do your best! More advice can be found below in our interview with Phoebe Topping.
The application process consists of an online test, an online exercise, a video interview, and a half day assessment centre, in which your skills, attitude and outlook will be assessed.
The online test consists of 2 online questionnaires, one on Situational Judgement and one Behavioural. There is also an e-tray exercise testing decision making skills.
In 2017 a new video interview stage was added into the application.
If you pass these online stages, then you will be invited to an assessment centre. This will consist of a leadership exercise, a group exercise, and an analysis exercise.
If you reach the required standard at the assessment centre, then you will go through a final selection process.
This process takes some months. For more information, please see the Fast Stream FAQ.
Once in the Fast Stream, you’ll be rotated around a variety of departments based on where there are vacancies and where the scheme managers believe you’ll fit in best. This structure is designed to give you the overview you need to be a leader for the whole of the Civil Service.
There are 15 different specific schemes, that are between 2-4 years in length. As Social Scientists, some of you may be interested in the 3 year Government Social Research Scheme. Find out more about all of the schemes here.
The Houses of Parliament Graduate Development Programme is a 2-4 year Graduate Development Programme, that has placements in the House of Commons or the House of Lords.
There is the opportunity to work in a variety of roles and departments during the scheme.
- Select Committees – providing briefing material for committee members on individual issues
- Outreach and Engagement – working to improve public understanding of Parliament
- The Strategic Estates Team – plan for the refurbishment and renovation of Parliament’s buildings
- Corporate Services – supporting Finance, HR and Audit functions
- The House of Commons Library – providing research and briefing services to MPs and their staff
Political impartiality is a central facet of the scheme, and it provides the opportunity to contribute towards the workings of Parliament without being involved in party politics.
In order to apply, you must have at least a 2:2 degree in any subject and meet the Civil Service nationality rules and security checks.
You'll also need to demonstrate the key competencies expected of all fast streamers. As well as these, other qualities tested for are:
• An interest in current affairs
• An ability to demonstrate political impartiality at all times
• Good communication skills (written and oral)
• Being able to handle pressure and work in a fast-paced environment
• Teamwork and ability to work with a diverse range of people
• Organisation and the ability to plan and distribute work
The application process involves an online application, an assessment centre, and a 30-minute interview.
More information on the application process and the core competencies can be found here.
PoliceNow runs a National Graduate Leadership programme. Their mission is to transform communities, reduce crime and increase the public's confidence in policing, by recruiting outstanding individuals to be leaders in society and on the policing frontline.
The programme is designed to train graduates with leadership potential to be inspirational police officers and outstanding crime fighters.
You will become a fully warranted police officer with responsibility for an area that could home as many as 20,000 people. The focus is on getting to know the community, and use innovative ideas and tactics to tackle the toughest problems and deliver high-impact results.
PoliceNow is an independent social enterprise that works with police forces across the country.
The programme is 2 years long, and is designed to be the ideal start to a career that could take you in many directions. After 28 days immersion training, you will immediately be in the field and responsible for your area. Many graduates go on to become successful leaders in business, commerce, charities and the public sector.
You can find additional information, a timeline of the programme, and information on applying on the PoliceNow website here.
The NGDP application process consists of an electronic application, a series of online tests, a video interview, an assessment centre, and then three formal interviews with local councils. You can find out more about the application timeline here.
In order to apply, you must have received at least a 2:2 at undergraduate level.
The scheme is focused on recruiting from many different backgrounds, universities and disciplines in order to reflect the diversity of the communities that local government serves, so whatever your background you should not hesitate to apply.
Once on the scheme, you will be employed on a fixed-term contract by a local council for two years. You’ll have placements in key areas of the councils, including policy and strategy, front-line service delivery, and operations.
The scheme is designed to give a real and practical understanding of the different aspects of local government and issues relating to the delivery of services to local communities.
Your choice of modules during your degree is an excellent opportunity to build specific skills and knowledge that will aid you in your career path towards the Public Sector.
Many of the modules on offer in the College of Social Sciences and International Studies will involve learning about and critically analysing issues that are vital to public policy delivery. These modules will allow you to demonstrate that you understand policy frameworks, you have the tools needed to solve practical problems, and you have a good basis on which to deliver answers and solutions to problems that matter within the Public Sector.
Below are links to modules within the SSIS departments you may want to consider taking in order to develop your understanding and gain the specific knowledge required within the sector. These modules may vary depending on staff availability and research interests, new topics of study, timetabling and student demand.
- You can check your module choices for Sociology, Philosophy and Anthropology here
Internships are generally useful in the Public Sector, but may vary in relevance depending on which sub-sector you wish to pursue. It is worth doing your own research on which areas and roles you are interested in, and performing an internship search on Handshake which houses all of the vacancies notified to Career Zone, or a relevant job site. (A list of these can be found in the side bar).
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office have a variety of work experience placements that are excellent experience and may help you work out whether the Public Sector is right for you. They are awarded on merit, and are targeted towards individuals from under-represented groups. More information can be found here.
A postgraduate qualification is not always necessary, and is sometimes only relevant to specific niche areas.
If you do have a particular interest, it is worth finding a course that relates to it and considering it as an option.
For an example of this, see the interview with Phoebe Topping, who studied an MA in Health Policy, Planning and Financing before entering the Civil Service Fast Stream and working in the Department of Health.
Extra-curricular activities are hugely important to any job search, and can really make you stand out in comparison to other graduates.
There are many opportunities to gain extra experience during your time at university, but below are some examples of things you could consider.
We have split this into Student's Guild or Falmouth & Exeter Students' Union opportunities and volunteering, and have highlighted some of the options that are most relevant to the public sector. This is by no means an exaustive list, so if you have something specific in mind you can do your own research on the Guild or SU website or online.
Joining societies and getting involved with the Students' Guild/Students' Union activities is a fantastic opportunity to gain experience for your CV and show your dedication to your chosen field or career path.
This is especially important in the Public Sector, as societies give you the opportunity to develop and prove the skills needed in assessment centres and job interviews.
Below is a list of some Societies or student groups that you might consider joining in order to give your skill set a boost and make yourself stand out from the crowd.
- Raise and Give (RAG) – fundraising, volunteering.
- Raise and Donate Penryn
- Politics Society – interest in politics and world affairs, the society aims to increase knowledge, interest and participation in politics – guest speakers, careers, networking events, socials, The Witness politics journal.
- Scouts, Guides & DofE Society – volunteer opportunities with scouting and guiding in Exeter.
- Amnesty International Society – social issues, current issues, make a change, volunteering, awareness of power structures and public policy. Also available at Penryn
- Debating Society - tackles current issues, raises awareness, debating skills workshops.
- Debating Union Penryn
- Friends of MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) – raising awareness for humanitarian organisation that delivers aid to people based on need around the world.
- Falmouth and Exeter Politics Society
- Global Brigades – around the world trips to volunteer with global health and sustainable development organizations and NGOs.
- Howard League for Penal Reform – trigger conversation surrounding the topic of criminality and the need for reform of the current system.
- Model United Nations Society – a debating society that operates as a model of the real UN – focused on national policy, political knowledge - learn how to work with people, compromise, negotiate and listen.
- Students Action for Refugees (STAR) Society – volunteering and social awareness.
- The Diplomatic Hub - for students interested in international affairs and diplomacy
- British Red Cross – promotion, humanitarian education, fundraising, volunteering, Red Cross Crisis Appeals.
- YMCA – raise awareness of plight of disadvantaged young people in Exeter, fundraising to help them in practical ways, training and volunteering opportunities.
Volunteering is another opportunity to show your dedication to Public Service and gain valuable skills and experience.
Much of the projects run by the Exeter Student Volunteering (ESV) part of the Guild and the Student Union at Penryn campus are relevant to the Public Sector, and there are also many other opportunities on the different campuses, so you will certainly be able to find something you’re interested in.
- Colab Exeter – resources about local volunteering opportunities.
- Volunteer Cornwall - local volunteering opportunities
- Exeter Nightline – communication skills, volunteering to keep people safe and be aware of social issues.
- Sports – resilience, endurance, confidence in self.
- Amnesty International Society – events, campaigns, working with and for other people.
- Be the Change Society – make a difference and bring about change both in the local area and internationally – 5 ongoing projects – social issues.
- Student Ambassador Scheme – huge range of skills, job.
- ESV – have a huge variety of different volunteering opportunities.
An Interview with Phoebe Topping, Civil Service Fast Stream Generalist
Watch our interview with Phoebe Topping, a graduate in Politics and Spanish who is now on the Civil Service Fast Stream "Generalist" pathway.
We ask her about:
- Why the public sector appealed to her as a career destination;
- Her experience of the application process;
- What she enjoys about the job;
- How languages have helped her career;
- Her top tips for students looking to get onto the Fast Stream.
Below, you can find links to help you find the current jobs, events and mentors available through The Career Zone that are relevant to the Public Sector.
Click on any of the links to be taken to the specific page.
The Career Mentor Scheme is a popular employability scheme which matches experienced professionals with a mentee (current student or recent graduate), to meet monthly for sector insights and one to one careers advice and guidance over a six month period.