Name: Sachin Shah
Age: 25 years old
Degree and university: Social and Political Sciences, Cambridge University (King’s College)
Work title: I am on the Civil Service Fast Stream Programme.
What do you actually do? I am based in the Home Office. As part of the programme I undertake a series of posts of around a year in length each. I am currently on my second post, which is as Team Leader and Workflow Manager for a team working on clearing the backlog of asylum cases. I line manage 11 caseworkers and plan their work so that they can meet some very challenging team performance targets.
Were you always interested in this sector? It’s a cliché, but once I left university I knew I wanted to enter a career where I could ‘make a difference’. As such the Civil Service Fast Stream seemed to be the obvious choice because it allows me to work on issues that affect people’s daily lives in a positive way.
How did you find out about the programme? I completed the Summer Development Programme, which is a civil service placement scheme for ethnic minority and disabled students in their penultimate year of university. During my two month placement I did a research study into vehicle crime, which involved engaging with lots of senior stakeholders, and I wrote sections of a government bill focused on cutting mobile phone-related crime.
It was a real eye-opener because I didn’t realise the breadth of work that takes place within one department, let alone across the entire civil service, and I certainly didn’t expect to be given the levels of responsibility that I was. Luckily there was a great support network around to help me when I needed it.
Have you ever experienced any prejudice in this sector? No. In Whitehall I have been in teams where I have been the only visible ethnic minority, but I have never felt subject to overt or covert prejudice. In Croydon the visible diversity is certainly far greater, and again I have never felt subject to prejudice. Indeed, I feel that the Home Office is a very progressive employer that emphasises diversity at all levels. Everyone has a performance objective focused on diversity.
What do you most like about what you do and Are there any downsides? Aside from feeling like I’m having a positive impact on the world around me, I love the intellectual stimulation provided by doing posts that are very different from each other. I feel that I’m constantly learning and gaining more skills, and I never get bored. The range of work that is on offer is also great; I can chose to work on anything from police to immigration, to crime to counter-terrorism, and that’s just in one department. I’m also hoping to do some work abroad with one of my postings. Also, there is a big drive to ensure that civil servants have some experience outside of their department, so it’s pretty easy to get seconded out to another department or a public sector organisation like the Prince’s Trust. One of the biggest benefits of working for the civil service is that the flexible hour’s system means that I can balance work with commitments outside.
The flipside to the learning opportunities presented by changing post after a year is that once you get settled into your team, and you’re really making a difference, it’s soon time to leave. Of course, this does mean you get to know lots of people really well. Also, the rate at which things get done within the civil service isn’t as bad as some people think, but there are always improvements that can be made. As for pay, I earn enough to live comfortably, but I don’t expect private sector pay for a public sector job.
What skills do you need to succeed at what you do? Flexibility – when you move posts you will end up with a different set of processes, people and policies, which is a good learning experience, but you need to be able to adapt. Moreover, as a Fast Streamer you are seen as an important and useful resource, so you may be asked to work on a project at short notice.
Interpersonal skills – as you will be engaging with a large range of people, from senior officials and ministers to practitioners, departmental colleagues and those from the voluntary and private sectors, it is important to have good interpersonal skills. Building up relationships and communicating with impact are essential.
What advice would you give other graduates wishing to do what you do? If you join the Fast Stream be prepared to feel out of your comfort zone at times – you’ll be given opportunities and responsibilities that will be challenging, but you’ll reap the rewards at the same time.
If you want a varied career, with a large range of opportunities and a diverse range of people, then the civil service is an ideal choice.