What kind of job opportunities are there in the public sector?

There are an enormous range of employers and job opportunities in the public sector. Most are financed through public money from national and local taxation and some are supplemented by charges (such as entry to leisure centres and museums, fees for parking, passports, driving tests or prescriptions, etc.). There are over 5 million people working in the public sector across many different employers, including local government which employs over 2 million, and central government with more than half a million civil servants. Here is a breakdown of many of the different types of workplace included:

  • The Civil Service: made up of over 170 government departments and agencies and the kind of work covered affects the whole country, including in the fields of employment, pensions, healthcare, education, security and fraud investigation. There are also non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) which carry out public functions but are not part of specific government departments, including tourist boards and the National Parks Authority, for example.
     
  • Regional Government: there are nine Government Offices based in the English regions. They represent different government departments including Transport, Education, Health, Culture, DEFRA, Work Pensions and tackle issues from a regional perspective. Each region also has a Regional Development Agency, set up to promote greater regional autonomy.
     
  • Local Government: there are over 400 local authorities in the UK, ranging from large metropolitan councils and London boroughs to county councils and small rural unitary authorities. There are around 600 occupations and thousands of different job titles in local government, working across different areas including education, environmental health, leisure, housing and social services, with a mix of professional, managerial and front-line staff and specialists. Areas include:
     
    • Corporate services: e.g. administration, finance, legal services, human resources and IT;
    • Education: in schools, colleges, libraries and centres for those with special needs. Teachers make up almost half of employees and others include classroom assistants, educational psychologists, youth workers, librarians and administrative staff;
    • Higher and Further Education: jobs are split between academic and non-academic. Academic staff are employed in teaching, scholarship, research and administration. Non-academic staff work in various positions, including libraries, human resources, finance, estates management, residential and commercial services, scientific and technical support, leisure, counselling, security, purchasing, marketing and public relations;
    • Emergency services: employ people such as emergency planners, firefighters, health and safety officers and scene-of-crime officers;
    • Environmental services: cover conservation, environmental health, highways and maintenance, planning and licensing, trading standards and waste management;
    • Leisure services: are responsible for managing public facilities such as leisure centres, museums, art galleries and tourist information centres. They also promote recreational and sports activities; and
    • Property services: include architecture, building and construction, maintenance and surveying.
       
  • Social services: support and care for the elderly, young people and those with physical disabilities or other special needs. Social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, welfare rights officers, care workers, drug abuse workers and policy development officers.
     
  • The NHS: employs around 1.5 million people in the United Kingdom. Health provision is split between primary care, the first point of professional contact (e.g. general practitioners, dentists, opticians and support occupations, occupational health, health education and promotion) for patients in the community, and secondary care, i.e. specialised treatment normally carried out in hospital. NHS staff are classified as:
     
    • Doctors including consultants, registrars, senior house officers and associate specialists;
    • Qualified nurses including midwives, health visiting staff, nurse consultants, nurse practitioners, modern matrons, nurse managers;
    • Qualified scientific, therapeutic technical staff (STT) qualified health support professionals;
    • Qualified ambulance staff ambulance paramedics and ambulance personnel;
    • Support staff including nursing assistants, nursing auxiliaries, nursery nurses, health care assistants and porters;
    • Clerical and administrative staff, for example medical secretaries and medical records officers, and maintenance and works staff; and
    • NHS infrastructure support personnel: i.e. those in finance, information technology, legal services, library services, health education and associated support services. This category also covers laundry, domestic services, catering and gardening workers, specialised management staff, and practice managers in the primary care sector.

Some public sector occupations are not exclusive to the public sector, with many accountants, HR and IT specialists, lawyers and managers working for public as well as private services. Other occupations are exclusive to, or mainly found in, the public sector such as teaching, fire-fighting, nursing, community regeneration, police and social work.

Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice or financial advice for your particular situation. Make sure to get individual advice on your case from your union, a source on our free help page or an independent financial advisor before taking any action.