Want to work in finance and make a difference at the same time? Then, as Anne Hollowday discovers, the Public Sector could be exactly what you’re looking for.
For those interested in finance careers, the private sector, with its huge array of job opportunities and salaries to match, is often the first and sadly the only port of call for graduates. The public sector, supposedly occupied by ageing and stagnating employees, lacks a similar allure. But don’t believe the myths, or else you’ll count yourself out of a stimulating and challenging career that actually plays a role for the good of society.
From local government budgeting to leading central government strategic teams, or heading major organisations such as the NHS, the range of opportunities within the finance public sector is vast. The charity and not-for-profit sectors employ several graduates every year who wish to "give something back" to society. Schools, colleges, housing associations and other public services are also major employers in this dynamic and socially responsible sector.
Many people are drawn to the sector because it involves social awareness of public spending, and ensuring this is carried out properly. Another attraction is the extremely desirable nine-to-five working day, which casts a disdainful eye upon the private sector’s characteristic pattern of very long working hours.
Roles in finance often require a period of further study on the job. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance Accountants (CIPFA) is the only professional accountancy body that specialises in the public sector. It offers several financial qualifications to suit individuals. Whether it’s accountancy, finance management, or auditing that you’re interested in, many public sector employers will support you through study and exams. Alumni of CIPFA include the head of the NHS and the head of finance in the Home Civil Service.
There are also several graduate rotation schemes in local government and other public organisations, where you spend a period in each of several different financial disciplines. This flexibility enables graduates to select which area of finance they would like to focus upon and allows time for training, the development of prospects, and career progression.
Many people find working in the public sector an immensely rewarding career, because they’re not just earning money to boost shareholder profits or managing the finances of corporate businesses. Their work affects real people, with real and visible outcomes.
Ensuring the public receives the highest-quality service is the driving force behind public sector finance jobs. Often working to tight budgets and within specific deadlines, these roles can have a significant impact upon society as a whole. Competition for them can, therefore, be as fierce as in the private sector. Don’t assume that it will be an easy ride.
To successfully combine work and study, you need to be disciplined and hardworking. It is also imperative you are analytical, excellent with figures and quick-thinking. Teamwork and good communication skills are also desired.
To top it all, highly attractive benefits packages are available in this sector, including a big salary, public sector pension and a large holiday allowance, with the flexibility to accrue holidays through worked overtime.