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Working in Government & Policy: Rewards, Challenges and Top Skills

By Joe S Sprecher, on 16 November 2018

Government & Policy Week icon showing Houses of Parliament UCL Careers Government & Policy Week 2018 welcomed a range of employers and UCL alumni working in government and the public sector to share their career insights and advice to students.

What do they find most rewarding and challenging in their careers? What skills and competencies are important to get into and work in the sector?

Find out what we learned below.

THE MOST REWARDING PART OF THEIR CAREERS

Employers at our ‘Careers that Make a Difference in the Public Sector’ panel said seeing the impact they are having on people and influencing society is one of the most rewarding parts of their jobs. For example, “on the Think Ahead programme, you work with mental health and social issues on the frontline, in people’s homes, so you see the direct impact you are having on people.” An alum from the TeachFirst programme said that the most rewarding part for them was “making an impact by opening people’s eyes to the possibilities in education that they can have”.

Frontline said that “producing long-term positive effects on society by building relationships with families” is most rewarding. Even working behind the scenes in the Civil Service, it was highlighted that “you have the potential to influence from the inside”.

Employers discussed variety and diversity in the job – no day is the same. An alum from Police Now said their “most memorable moment was working at the Olympics” and Unlocked said “working with prisoners is funny and interesting – they are always full of interesting stories!” The Civil Service Fast Stream shared that “a great advantage to working in the Civil Service is the size and breadth of the field – it’s so huge that there’s lots of range, diversity and opportunities to progress and specialise in”.

AND THE CHALLENGES…

A common insight was that working in the public sector could be demanding and emotionally challenging. Frontline, Police Now, TeachFirst, ThinkAhead and Unlocked agreed that dealing with mental health patients, crime offenders, prisoners and children can be emotionally challenging: at times, they may not want to be helped and you can face confrontation.

In our ‘Influencing Policy’ panel, employers stressed the nature of politics as challenging. National Housing Federation said “Politics is insanely difficult and always changing – you need to put in a ton of graft work”. Advice from Agora think tank is “aim to be a good strong voice within change”. Working on policies you disagree with is a possibility in the Civil Service Fast Stream. Their advice on dealing with it is all about perception: “If the policy is contentious, it can actually be beneficial to work on it – you have the opportunity to make sure it is implemented in the best way possible”. They also advise that there are opportunities for less policy-focussed roles in the Fast Stream.

An alum who will start work as a Senior Public Policy Manager for Data, Platforms and AI for Vodafone Group expressed that “public perception can be a challenge as well as data ethics”.

So, what were the top skills for the public sector?

MOTIVATION TO HELP PEOPLE

Employers emphasised that for a career in the public sector and government, you should show that you care about people. Whether you are working frontline with members of the public or influencing and writing policy behind the scenes, your work is affecting people and their everyday lives. Advice from Cancer Research is “find out what people care about and tailor your service towards them”.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING & TEAM WORK

Relationship building was another key skill desired by employers – especially those that involve working directly with clients on the frontline (e.g. Think Ahead, Frontline and TeachFirst). In the Civil Service Fast Stream, you will move from one department to another so relationship building and teamwork is also required in non-frontline work to collaborate with different teams and people.

ADAPTABILITY

Employers highlighted adaptability because frontline work may require you to attend emergency / crisis situations at short notice. Policy work is also difficult as politics is always changing. Agora think tank and Greater London Authority emphasised that “Brexit has left many unanswered questions about the future” so adaptability will be important.

RESILIENCE

Resilience was a key discussion amongst employers across the events. Responding and adapting to political changes or perhaps dealing with clients, emergencies and crises means that the job can be demanding and emotionally challenging. Being able to recover quickly from difficult situations is crucial for working in the public sector.

Speakers who attended: Agora think tank, Cancer Research, Civil Service Fast Stream, Frontline, Greater London Authority, National Housing Federation, Police Now, TeachFirst, Think Ahead, Unlocked & Vodafone Group.

There are still more UCL Careers Themed Weeks coming up! Media Week is next, starting on 26 November with, Charities & NGOs, International Development, Sustainability Fortnight and Life & Health Sciences Week still to come.

Visit our website to find out more about upcoming Themed Weeks.

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