The public services and administration sector is a smart choice for those who'd like to make a real difference at local and national level. Discover more about areas of work and graduate employers

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), more than 5.4 million people work in the public sector across the UK - accounting for 17.1% of all those in employment. It's undeniably a huge employment source, but what is the public sector?

In a nutshell the public sector is responsible for providing all public services in the UK, from the emergency services and healthcare, education and social care to housing and refuse collection. As such, a broad range of opportunities and a varied workload are just two reasons why you should consider a career in this sector.

What areas of the public sector can I work in?

Opportunities in the public services can be broadly categorised into two main areas: central government, which employs roughly 3 million people, and local government, which employs around 2.1 million people.

However, these aren't your only options, you can find work with a number of other public services but these tend to crossover with other sectors. You could work in:

Opportunities in administration can be categorised into general administration, specialist administration (e.g. legal, educational, agricultural and medical) and professional administration (e.g. personal assistant and company secretary). Every sector needs administration workers so you could find a job in a range of areas, including the energy and utilities, media and internet and recruitment and HR sectors.

For examples of job roles see public sector jobs and administration jobs.

Who are the main graduate employers?

There are two key employers in the public services: the Civil Service and local government.

Civil Service departments, agencies or public bodies include:

  • Diplomatic Service
  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO)
  • Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
  • Government Economic Service (GES)
  • Government Legal Service (GLS)
  • Government Operational Research Service (GORS)
  • Government Social Research (GSR)
  • Government Statistical Service (GSS)
  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC)
  • HM Treasury
  • Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), MI6
  • Security Service, MI5.

In local government, roles can be found in areas of work including:

  • architecture, heritage and housing
  • environmental health
  • media and communications
  • social services
  • surveying and town planning
  • Trading Standards
  • youth and community work.

Other notable employers in the public services include:

  • armed forces
  • Bank of England
  • British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)
  • British Museum
  • Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA)
  • Financial Conduct Authority (FCA)
  • National Audit Office
  • National Probation Service
  • NHS
  • ONS.

What's it like working in the sector?

You can expect:

  • jobs to be widely available throughout the UK
  • good working conditions, but relatively low job security
  • a starting salary of between £14,000 and £25,000
  • some roles to be stressful - you'll work to tight deadlines and have a high degree of responsibility
  • some jobs to have strict nationality entry requirements
  • strong opportunities for continuing professional development (CPD)
  • opportunities to travel both locally and nationally. You'll also get to work abroad in some posts.

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 sector?

While the public sector remains one of the key graduate employers a big issue facing the industry is a lack of digital and tech skills.

The UK Digital Strategy 2017 set out the Government's plan to introduce new digital initiatives and transform the way the public sector operates by 2020, but the growing digital skills gap is preventing these initiatives from achieving their full potential. Graduates with technological knowledge and skills are therefore in high demand.

In more positive news, according to High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2018 report the public sector employed 4,000 graduates in 2017 and is set to be one of the largest recruiters in 2018 with an expected 4,270 vacancies.