Why get involved with the Civil Service?

The government currently employs 453,000 civil servants on a full-time basis in the UK. These guys are the talented people that help the government to develop and deliver its policies in the most effective way possible.

Consequently, careers in the Civil Service are pretty exciting and ever so important. The hard work of civil servants has a huge impact on all our lives and society would not be able to function properly without them. So how do you get involved? Well, there are a number of possible routes in, but for budding graduates the best, most popular and most competitive way is through the Civil Service Fast Stream programme.

What is the Civil Service Fast Stream?

Ok, so you might have heard of the Civil Service Fast Stream before. It’s in the top five ‘Times Top 100 Graduate Employers’, it sounds very important and exciting, it pays quite well, it’s very competitive and it would be fantastic if you secured a place on this much lauded graduate scheme. But do you really know what it involves and what kind of work you might be doing?

Right then! The Civil Service Fast Stream is a graduate scheme, which is designed to help nurture the country’s most talented graduates and allow them to thrive and progress quickly in their careers as civil servants. If you take this route into the Civil Service, you are going to have more responsibility more quickly than somebody who goes through a different route and starts in a low level administrative position.

Fast Streamers can work across a huge variety of government departments, in a range of locations across the UK. However, if you are successful and get onto the scheme, you will be assigned to one specific department, e.g. the Department for Education, the Ministry of Justice or the House of Commons.

Within this single department, you will be able to gain a huge amount of experience by undertaking a number of different work placements. These will each last between 12 and 18 months and will allow you to gain experience in at least two of the following three core areas of work:

  • Operational delivery
  • Policy
  • Corporate services.

Operational delivery is all about providing first-rate public services. This is about the public’s direct interaction with governmental work. Consequently, in this part of your development, you might be managing administration procedures at border control in an airport or managing the operations in a Job Centre.

Policy is all about working on government strategy and initiatives. This is the part of the job that most people think of when they consider working for the Civil Service. It’s going to involve lots of research, analysis and working in partnership with stakeholders to plan, prepare, devise and evaluate new policies.

Corporate services are essential to making sure all government departments are run smoothly. Here, you might be working on the HR, finance, procurement or I.T. side of things. This part of the job can come with a huge amount of responsibility, especially when it comes to monitoring and coordinating departmental budgets.

You are going to need a keen interest in political issues to work on the Civil Service Fast Stream programme. However, a huge thing to remember when you’re working in this area is that you cannot allow your own political views to affect your work. Impartiality is a big deal in the Civil Service. It is the cornerstone of their values and allows them to truly develop and deliver policies that are in the best interests of the public.

In order to be eligible for application, you have to meet certain criteria, but surprisingly the entry requirements are quite open. There is no age limit, you must meet the nationality requirements (please see the Civil Service Fast Stream website for more details), and you only need to get a 2:2 degree or above.

What does it take to get in?

However, there are a few things to note here: 1) you will need to get a 2:1 degree for certain specialist strands of the Fast Stream, and 2) this scheme is incredibly competitive. Consequently, if you get a 2:2, you might be up against people with 2:1s and first class degrees, so in order to stand a strong chance of being selected you are going to have to have something pretty special to offer. Understandably, the higher class of degree you get, the better chance you will have of getting in.

If you are successful, then you could be working in locations across the UK. You’re not necessarily going to be working in London though; there are opportunities in the north, the south, the Midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Civil Service are extremely keen to promote diversity and their workforce comes from a wide range of backgrounds. They are looking for the right kind of people with the right kind of competencies, such as flexibility (not literally though, they don’t tend to hire many people for their gymnastic capabilities!), decision making skills and the ability to develop strong working relationships with people.

Furthermore, they want people that can think innovatively and have the drive, ambition and initiative to work autonomously at times.

What does the Fast Stream actually involve?

The Civil Service Fast Stream is not just one simple graduate programme. It is broken down into various different strands. These are all very different and some are highly specialised. Consequently, some candidates might be right for some, but not for others.

The main options you have are:

  • The Graduate Fast Stream
  • The Analytical Fast Stream
  • The HR Fast Stream
  • The Technology in Business Fast Stream
  • The European Fast Stream
  • The Northern Ireland Fast Stream.

Keep reading and find out a little bit more about each one!

Graduate Fast Stream

The Graduate Fast stream is broken down further into four different parts:

  • Central Departments
  • Diplomatic Service
  • Houses of Parliament
  • Science and Engineering.

If you pursue the Central Departments route, you could be working for any of the central government departments, except for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Here, you will be working at the core of all government activity, and driving forward the big projects that affect all of society.

Working for the Diplomatic Service, is arguably the most exciting and glamorous route to take. You will spend the first two years in the FCO headquarters in Whitehall, delivering foreign policy and delivering services which affect British citizens abroad.

Following this you will work abroad for three or four years in an embassy, high commission or consulate. This will allow you to learn about the country you are posted in, understand its people, its culture, and will give you the chance to make a real impact on the issues that are most important to the UK in that area of the world. If you want to work in the Diplomatic Service, you have to put it down as your first preference when you are applying.

A career with the Houses of Parliament Fast Stream will put you right at the heart of British politics. You will be supporting the Speaker, MPs, the Members of the House of Lords, Select Committees and the other staff of the Houses. You might be supporting the operational side of things, analysing new legislations, carrying out financial administration, or drafting reports.

Understandably, opportunities within the Science and Engineering Fast Stream are only open to people with degrees in scientific, numerate, I.T. or engineering focused degrees.

These careers are not about doing experiments or fixing things; they are all about contributing to the development and delivery of scientific and engineering policies. The main two departments you might be working for here are: the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).

You will need the ability to carry out systematic analysis and have a strong understanding of technical issues. You will also need business-focused competencies.

Analytical Fast Stream

The specialist Analytical Fast Stream is obviously all about analysis. This is further broken down into three distinct areas:

  • Government Economic Service (GES)
  • Government Social Research Service (GSR)
  • Government Statistical Service (GSS).

For all these areas, you are going to need a minimum 2:1 degree.

Working as part of the GES, you will work across a range of government departments and use your economic skills to establish the financial benefits and detriments of government activities.

To follow this route, you will need an economics degree, or a joint economics degree where 50% of your modules were economics based. You are going to need a sound understanding of economics principles and the ability to apply these to practical situations.

Working with the GSR, you will be carrying out the necessary quantitative and qualitative social research that provides valuable evidence to support governmental policies and services throughout their creation, development, implementation and operation.

You will need a strong mix of professional and technical prowess to take data collection activities by the scruff of the neck and then present expansive research in a succinct and accessible manner. This research plays an integral role in high-level decision making processes.

You will need a degree in a relevant social science subject, such as psychology, geography, political science or criminology.

A career with the GSS will involve the collection, analysis and distribution of statistics relating to every aspect of UK society. You might work in a range of departments, including the Office for National Statistics. You will need a numerate degree, and a great understanding of data collection procedures.

HR Fast Stream

The HR Fast Stream programme is all about giving you the opportunity to become a human resources professional within the Civil Service. It is essential that the Civil Service’s workforce has the very best structure and support. Consequently, these guys are hugely important to maintaining the Civil Service’s efficacy and impact, especially in a time of public sector budget cuts.

Your two 18-month placements will allow you to learn about a broad range of HR functions and you will be fully supported in gaining chartered membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). To be successful, you are going to need a minimum 2:2 degree and a keen interest in the HR profession.

Technology in Business Fast Stream

The Technology in Business Fast Stream (TiB) is all about I.T. and how it impacts on the business side of the Civil Service. It will allow you to simultaneously develop both your practical and strategic I.T. skills. Moreover, it will also allow you to develop into a professional who will have a significant impact on public sector I.T. business change initiatives in the future.

Your degree does not necessarily need to be in an I.T. subject, but you are going to need a 2:1. You must also have the ability to understand and use complex technologies. Furthermore, you’ll need to be able to appreciate how they will impact on government operations.

European Fast Stream

The European Fast Stream is for those who want to become European Civil Servants. It effectively gives you valuable training that allows you to prepare for the European Union Concours:a recruitment competition and examination to select staff for all the institutions of the European Union.

A career in this area is all about influencing policy across the entirety of EU. You might be working on initiatives that deal with climate change, terrorism, energy, or transport etc.

For your first two years you will be based in the UK, working on EU related issues within a Civil Service department, such as the FCO, BIS, or Department of Energy and Climate Change. You might even get the chance to do a 6 month internship with the European Commission.

You will then take the Concours. If you are unsuccessful, you will stay as a Fast Streamer in the UK. If you are successful, you will begin work within the EU.

You will receive language training in French or German as part of your training, since much of the Concours will be conducted in one of these foreign languages. Consequently, you will need an A-Level in French or German (A-C grade) before you can apply. However, experience of these languages at a higher level would be a great bonus.

Northern Ireland Fast Stream

Last but not least, the Northern Ireland Fast Stream is all about serving Northern Ireland (NI). This is a fairly broad strand of the Fast Stream programme and you could find yourself working on all kinds of Civil Service work.

You are likely to be based in the Greater Belfast area and you will work in a range of different NI Civil Service departments, such as the Department of Finance and Personnel, the Department of Employment and Learning, or the Department for Social Development. You are going to need a 2:2 minimum degree, and a strong desire to work in Northern Ireland.

What else do I need to know?

Phew! That’s a lot to get your head round, but here are just a few more things you might want to know:

  • The big one: your starting salary will range between £25,000 and £27,000 per annum.
  • Training will involve many different aspects: an induction event, on-the-job training, formal training, action learning, performance reviews and professional qualifications.
  • You can actually defer your entry onto the Civil Service Fast Stream, in order to take part in the Teach First scheme.

For more information on the Civil Service Fast Stream, check out their official website here! You will stand a far better chance of being successful if you start thinking about it now and really understand what the scheme entails!

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