Top 4 tips for a successful career in public services

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
November, 2015

As the public sector goes through major change, discover how you could play an influential role in delivering services while making a positive difference to your local community

Local authorities are England's largest and most diverse employers. Despite having a 1.2million-strong workforce, the future delivery of services has been brought into question.

Private businesses and voluntary sector organisations are becoming increasingly active in carrying out services that traditionally have been overseen by councils. This has meant that the boundary between the two is now harder to distinguish.

Graduates hoping to enter this sector are therefore doing so at a time of upheaval - there have been wide-scale cuts, and those holding management and policy positions have faced growing financial and political pressures.

With so much uncertainty, why would you wish to press ahead with a career in public services?

Read on to discover how you can develop the skills required to overcome these challenges, and meet the growing demands of modern society.

Develop your flexibility

If you are someone who has the passion and drive to ensure a better life outcome for people in your local community - and, of course, the right skillset to succeed - this sector may be right for you.

The one quality that you'll need to have in abundance, however, is the ability to adjust to change.

Professor Gerard PadrĂ³ i Miquel, programme director for the Master of Public Administration (MPA) at The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), claims that this postgraduate qualification ensures graduates are given the perfect preparation to deliver public services in the midst of local government reform.

'This blending of solid analytical tools and exposure to real-world managerial and policy challenges is designed to prepare professionals for a world of changing demands,' adds Professor Miquel.

Understand the public and private sectors

One of the main benefits of postgraduate courses like the MPA at LSE is that they often combine rigorous academic training in essential areas such as economics and political science with hands-on work with clients ranging from international financial institutions to public-private partnerships.

It is this all-round education that means you should have no problem in spanning the divide between public and private service delivery. Indeed, Matthew Higgs, graduate and apprentice manager at Severn Trent Water, reveals how valuable public sector knowledge can be to private companies managing such projects.

'Understanding the drivers and motivators of the private sector will help any aspiring graduate with public services experience appreciate the differences that still exist between the two,' says Matthew. 'This will prove critical in dealing with the private sector organisations that are becoming a key part of public services delivery.'

Gain local knowledge

While the private sector can help to plug some of the gaps that local authorities struggle with, there is no substitute for local knowledge in making the right decisions.

Should you decide that you'd like to work for local government immediately after leaving university with an undergraduate degree, the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) - run by the Local Government Association (LGA) - is a viable option to consider.

This two-year management programme offers training and opportunities for graduates looking to gain broad experience in an exciting and challenging role. With the potential to specialise in areas such as strategy and policy, you will get to understand the various aspects of service delivery as a National Management Trainee (NMT).

After the placement, your career could take you down a number of different paths that allow you to make a real difference to your local community.

Be prepared for the challenge

Even though the public sector was one of the sectors expected to recruit the most graduates in 2015 (according to High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2015 report) there are still fewer jobs available in local government. As previously outlined, this is primarily due to outsourcing.

But what this does mean is that there is now a wider range of employers dealing with the delivery of public services. So, if you have the professional skills and knowledge to adapt to this changing environment, you will find there are endless possibilities when it comes to pursuing a rewarding career.