Your guide to Civil Service careers

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Houses of Parliament at dusk

If politicians are the actors on the stage, Civil Servants are the guys running around behind the scenes doing the performers' hair, getting the props ready and making sure everything is going smoothly

They draft legislation based on the government's policies and also work out how to put laws and decisions made by Parliament into practice.

The Civil Service is also responsible for the day-to-day running of government departments and public services from education, health, transport to the environment.

There’s a wide range of Civil Service careers on offer – everything from science and engineering to finance and business. And because they work for the state, Civil Servants have opportunities to do work that you can’t do anywhere else.

'Your guide to Civil Service careers through apprenticeships, the grad scheme and direct entry'

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What is the Civil Service? 

Cabinet Office UK

The UK's Cabinet Office, where many Civil Servants work at the

heart of government

First off, let’s look at what exactly the Civil Service is. In a nutshell, the Civil Service provides services to the British people and puts the policies of the current government into place.

Here are some of the duties of the Civil Service:

  • Paying people their pensions.
  • Running employment services like the job centre.
  • Running prisons.
  • Providing driving licenses.
  • Influencing how our healthcare is provided.
  • Helping save lives when terrorist attacks and natural disasters happen.
  • Helping to reduce and end poverty.

There are 42,000 people working in Civil Service careers all over the country.

Turning policies into reality

The Civil Service exists to provide the administrative support to enable the government and public sector to work. When elected politicians are appointed to a run a government department by the Prime Minister, Civil Servants are the people with the skills and knowledge to turn these politicians' political vision into reality. This includes working on draft legislation to be put before Parliament and then developing a concrete action plan if Parliament votes it through.

Running public services

Civil Servants are also the staff who work in government-run public services, from the Prison Service to Jobcentres to the DVLA (in charge of driving licences). These are parts of the public sector run by the central government rather than local councils.

How can I get a job in the Civil Service?

If you’re ambitious, hard-working and want to influence the issues that really affect people's lives, one of the many Civil Service careers could be the right path for you.

There are two main routes into Civil Service careers within government departments: apprenticeships and graduate programmes. Here we’ll explore these routes, the entry requirements, the experience and knowledge you’ll gain, and how to apply.

Civil Service apprenticeships

What are they?

The Civil Service Fast Track Apprenticeship Scheme is a two-year higher apprenticeship.

An apprenticeship is a great way to learn on the job, while earning money and without the fees and debt of university. You will also gain a professional qualification. A level 4 apprenticeship is equivalent to a foundation degree.

There are five different types of Civil Service apprenticeships in the Fast Track programme:

1. Policy: You carry out research and gather evidence in order to make policy recommendations to the government. You'll work towards a level 4 qualification and develop skills including evidence gathering, problem-solving, evaluation, communication, presentation and time management.

2. Business: You will gain skills such as organisation, planning and problem-solving. Your tasks could include arranging meetings and managing projects. You will study for a level 4 Diploma in Business and Professional Administration and an NVQ Diploma in Business and Administration.

3. Commercial: You will get experience in how the government “procures” goods and services – that means the process of selecting sellers, deciding on the cost, negotiating contracts and then finally buying the good or service. So for example you could be working on the government’s prison catering, planning which company provides the food and making sure prisons receive their meals on time. During the apprenticeship you’ll work towards a level 4 Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply.

4. Finance: You will gain finance and accountancy skills, learning about budgets and deciding where to spend money. You will study for the level 4 professional accountant and taxation technician standard.

5. Digital and technology: You’ll learn a bunch of specialist skills like coding, website development, analysing data, and presenting information in creative ways. You will develop your organisation and communication skills. You will study one of the following level 4 apprenticeship standards: network engineerdata analystsoftware developersoftware tester.

6. Project delivery: You will learn the ins and outs of how to manage different government projects. Your tasks could include deciding how much a project will cost, buiding relationships with colleagues and clients, creating monthly reports to show your bosses how the project is going, and solving problems as they come up. You’ll take the level 4 associate project manager apprenticeship standard.

What will I get?

As well as gaining qualifications, experience and skills, Civil Service apprenticeships give you:

  • A salary of between £19,500 and £27,000.
  • Flexible working arrangements.
  • mentor who will help you network and develop your skills.
  • Access to different sports and social clubs.
  • A pension scheme.

Here’s Natasha explaining what her Civil Service apprenticeship was like:

"I initially applied to the Fast Track Apprenticeship Scheme alongside applying to university ... It was the best decision I have made for my career ... One of the main benefits to this apprenticeship is that you are given responsibility from the outset and the work is important. I have been made aware of many opportunities that are available to me as a Civil Servant, of which I would have never considered had I not applied for this scheme!"

In this video, 20-year-old Will talks about his experience of the Fast Track apprenticeship in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport:

Am I eligible?

All of the Civil Service apprenticeships in the Fast Track programme require you to have five GSCEs at grade 4 / C or above. Some also require you to have two A-levels at grade D or above.

How can I apply?

The first stage is to decide which Fast Track apprenticeship you’d like to apply for. Then read this step-by-step guide of the application process.

Civil Service graduate scheme

The other route to getting a Civil Service job is through the graduate scheme, known as the Fast Stream.

The Fast Stream is a programme for graduates that allows you to gain experience and skills while working for the Civil Service. There are 15 schemes in different areas:

  • Generalist.
  • Diplomatic service.
  • Houses of Parliament.
  • Science and engineering.
  • Commercial.
  • Finance.
  • Human Resources.
  • Communication.
  • Digital and Technology.
  • Project Delivery.
  • European.
  • Economic.
  • Operational Research.
  • Social Research.

Many of the Fast Stream schemes accept a degree in any subject, though it’s worth remembering that this is a very competitive programme. In 2014 less than 5% of the applicants were offered a spot.

In this video, vlogger Chelsea Angeles talks about her journey applying to work for the Civil Service:

Other Civil Service careers

There are many other Civil Service careers which don't require entry through an apprenticeship or graduate scheme. Many government departments look for professionals of all backgrounds as well as other employees to carry out administrative and clerical work.

This includes the Prison Service, Courts and Tribunals Service, Jobcentres and as well as agencies such as Public Health England, Acas and the Office for National Statistics.

Often these bodies look for experts from professional backgrounds, such as scientists, medics and statisticians. They also look for administrative staff requiring no particular background or specialism.

You can view and apply for job here.

Work experience opportunities

As in any field, gaining work experience can really boost your Civil Service careers prospects. Check out the Movement to Work scheme, which lists work experience placements with the Civil Service.

The Civil Service is looking to boost diversity to make sure people from different ethnic and social backgrounds are represented in its ranks. Diversity internships placements are available for people from under-represented backgrounds:

To learn more about Civil Service careers and other roles in the public sector - from the NHS to local councils - check out our Public Sector & Government Career Zone.

Images: Lead image via Wikimedia Commons

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