Work experience in public services

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
January, 2015

Looking for the springboard to public services success? There are thousands of exciting work experience opportunities available that can provide just that…

Given the sector's competitiveness and diversity, work experience will help you to understand which job roles your experiences, interests and skills suit. What's more, you'll stand out to prospective employers as a capable, committed and proactive candidate.

Alistair Jones, principal lecturer in politics and public policy at De Montfort University, claims that many organisations - especially those stretched by recent budget cuts - are begging to hear from the brightest young talent. 'Seeing how the theory of public administration is applied, or misapplied, leads to more well-rounded and employable students,' he adds.

Here are four places where you'll find outstanding work experience opportunities…


The epicentre of UK politics offers paid long-term placements in four areas:

  • Department of Committee and Chamber Services (DCCS);
  • Department of Facilities;
  • Department of HR and Change (DHRC);
  • Department of Information Services.

Participants manage and deliver their own projects, and support their department by undertaking day-to-day administrative tasks such as drafting reports and liaising with core stakeholders. They also have access to numerous training and development opportunities.

Dulcie Merrett is a current sandwich student at the House of Commons, working primarily as an assistant HR officer in the DHRC. 'Experiencing Parliament can make students stand out,' she says. 'It also provides insight into the profession and sector they're interested in, and opens their eyes to the diverse opportunities and professions available.'

Working for a Member of Parliament (MP)

An invigorating opportunity, working as an administrator, manager or researcher in an MP's constituency or Westminster office can kick-start a career in public services.

John Glen, MP for Salisbury, is one of many MPs to host such opportunities. His work experience participants attend meetings in Parliament, and witness debates and Select Committees in action. Other tasks include briefing him on campaigns and reports, and assisting his full-time staff with day-to-day administration.

Mr Glen says that work experience helps shatter the perceptions that young people have of Westminster and how it operates. 'Seeing the Commons in action is essential for those pursuing a career in public service, so that they can understand the breadth of work that goes on and the legislative processes that underpin UK government,' he adds.

Local government

Many local authorities are desperate for interns to fill short-term niches; positions which prove an ideal starting point for many public services careers. Non-political opportunities are available in areas as diverse as administration, environment, finance and youth work.

There are also political positions available. One of Alistair's students was employed by a mayoral candidate as the first member of his election team, in what became a successful campaign. 'Temping at a local council can provide a route into the public sector,' says Alistair. 'The experiences involved are tremendous.'

To find out more about what's available, contact your local council's human resources (HR) department.

Private sector

Public and private sector boundaries have become increasingly blurred in recent years, with the economic climate meaning that both now face similar efficiency, cost and delivery challenges. This, coupled with the fact that many private companies are active in lobbying organisations such as the European Union (EU), means that young public sector experts are valued very highly.

Severn Trent Water operates in a heavily-regulated industry and counts a number of public sector and semi-public sector bodies among its key stakeholders. As such, the FTSE 100 business is constantly seeking work experience participants with the necessary public sector knowledge to manage significant research 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 Higgs, graduate and apprentice manager. 'This will prove critical in dealing with the private sector organisations that are becoming a key part of public services delivery.'