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Graduate employment in the public sector

The lure of the public sector remains strong for many new graduates. Working for the British taxpayer offers the prospect of heightened job security, diverse opportunities and the chance to serve the national good - be it in areas like teaching, the NHS or at central or local government level. At least that's what many job hunters once thought, anyway. The onset of the economic recession in 2008 served to undermine such perceptions, with government talk turning instead towards the need to shrink Britain's huge public sector as a means of controlling national debt. Terms like "public sector pay freeze" and "recruitment freeze" have become more prominent as a result, suggesting those who wish to land a public sector job must work harder than ever to prove their worth.  

The Higher Education Career Services Unit (HECSU) has noted that a higher proportion of public sector workers are educated to degree level than in the private sector. Charlie Ball, deputy research director at HECSU, suggested that because of this, public sector cuts can have a "disproportionate effect on graduates". Indeed, he claimed that even if only a fifth of the 39,000 public sector graduate jobs were slashed, it could double unemployment for that intake to close to 25 per cent.  

It certainly means graduates must be flexible and dedicated if they wish to find public sector work in challenging economic times. Laurence Hedditch, a partner at Deloitte in Wales, argued in an interview with Wales Online that people should use their own initiative when it comes to looking for a graduate job, rather than waiting to be told what to do. "Students can take practical steps to improve their ability to find and secure a graduate job in this market," he said. "More time needs to be devoted to research and preparation." 

The NHS is certainly one huge public sector body that is often earmarked for cuts and efficiency drives, but it remains a massive British employer, boasting a workforce of over 1.7 million people. Those who wish to work at the front line of the NHS as doctors and surgeons must of course have the required degrees and training placements behind them to have any hope of landing jobs. Others, who may wish to break into nursing for example, can enrol on special degrees or diplomas which ultimately lead to registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Under changes which take affect from September 2013, new entrants to the nursing profession will only be able to study for degrees, with diploma courses being phased out between September 2011 and early 2013.                           

"Degrees and diploma programmes comprise of 50 per cent theory and 50 per cent practice, with time split between the higher education institute which runs the course and practical placements in a variety of healthcare settings," explains the NHS. Those who wish to apply for a nursing training programme - which include full-time and part-time degree courses as well as Masters courses - should aim to submit their applications to UCAS between September 1st and January 15th ahead of the academic year in which they want to start the course. 

Meanwhile, prospective teachers can look to a range of graduate opportunities each year. The profession considers a huge range of degrees to be valid stepping stones into work, with the postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) levelling the playing field somewhat, offering a varied mix of graduates the chance to gain the training needed to secure a job in a school or college. PGCE courses are available at universities and colleges throughout the UK, while it may also be possible to study for the certificate via flexible distance learning.  

"A PGCE course mainly focuses on developing your teaching skills, and not on the subject you intend to teach," notes the Training and Development Agency for Schools. "For this reason, you are expected to have a good understanding of your chosen subject(s) - usually to degree level - before you start training." 

Whatever public sector route graduates opt for, it is imperative they show as much application and dedication as they would when applying to the private sector. Chris Morrall of Talent Transitions argues that graduates should spread their applications more thinly and concentrate on quality in order to give themselves the best chance of landing a job. "Be focused; the problem with 45 applications for every job is that probably 30 of those are not being tailored for the role - do less applications and better quality," he suggests.

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