Overview of the public services sector in the UK
Whether you harbour ambitions of shaping government policy or wish to make a difference to the lives of people in your local area, there are numerous job opportunities in public services
What areas can I work in?
Employment opportunities in public services can often be broadly categorised into two groups: central government and local government. You could also work in law enforcement, security or the emergency services. Working in health administration or management in the National Health Service (NHS) is also an option; for more information see healthcare.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published September 2015 figures showing that 5.3million people work in the public sector across the UK, accounting for around 17% of those in employment. Roughly 2.9million work in central government with 2.3million in local government. The sector’s biggest employers are the NHS.
Employment opportunities in administration can be grouped into:
- general administration;
- specialist administration, such as: legal; education; agricultural; medical; and library;
- professional administration, such as: personal assistant; and company secretary.
There are over 3.25million people working in administration and secretarial positions in the UK. According to Skills CFA’s Business & Administration Labour Market Report 2012, 38% of these are in the public administration, education or health sectors. In some areas of administration, more than 50% of employees are part time.
For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in public services and administration.
Who are the main graduate employers?
There are two key public services employers: local government departments and Civil Service departments.
Local government departments include:
- environmental health;
- social services;
- town planning;
- Trading Standards.
Civil Service departments, agencies or public bodies include:
- Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO);
- Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ);
- Government Economic Service (GES);
- Government Legal Service (GLS);
- Government Operational Research Service (GORS);
- Government Social Research Service (GSR);
- Government Statistical Service (GSS);
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC);
- HM Treasury;
- The Secret Intelligence Service, MI6;
- The Security Service, MI5.
You could also work for a non-departmental public body. Some have graduate schemes, while others recruit for specific vacancies. Administrative roles are found across all sectors.
What's it like working in the sector?
Graduates entering the public services and administration sector can expect:
- an average starting salary of £20,000, though the graduate starting salary at the European Commission (EC) is £41,500 - one of the highest available (High Fliers’ The Graduate Market in 2015);
- opportunities to work abroad, for example in Her Majesty’s Diplomatic Service;
- some jobs in this sector to have strict nationality entry requirements;
- some jobs in this sector to have opportunities to use languages, and a demand for less studied languages such as Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Arabic and Russian.
To find out more about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.
What are the key issues in the public services sector?
While UK public sector employment has continued to fall in recent years - and is at the lowest level since ONS records began in 1999 - it has been highlighted by High Fliers’ report as one of the biggest growth areas for graduate vacancies.
According to The Graduate Market in 2015, the sector enjoyed a 13% increase in recruitment in December 2014 compared to the previous year. However, the number of people working in local government has fallen, due to outsourcing to private companies or the voluntary sector. Therefore, there is now a wider range of employers to consider if you’re looking for a role in public services.
Administrative roles increasingly involve performing other business functions, as the need for routine administrative work has decreased due to technological advancements. So, if you have a desire to work in this area, there is a corresponding need to keep up to date with advances in IT.