Why work in local government?
Careers in the public sector aren’t just about parliamentary affairs and policy-making in Whitehall offices. Sure, central government departments make all the big decisions with regards to national policies. However, the services provided by local councils and the policies they implement for the benefit of the local community are incredibly important. Consequently, if you pursue a graduate job within a local government organisation, you will have a major impact on people’s lives.
What do local government workers do?
Local councils (a.k.a. local authorities) provide a huge range of services for the citizens that live within their area, ranging from emergency services and education, to health care, social care and waste management.
Our local communities would surely be in a constant state of disarray without the hard work of local government employees; piles of household waste would be lining your street, the shelves of your public library would be empty except for a single dog-eared copy of Heat magazine and leisure centres and public sporting facilities would be a figment of your imagination.
Local government is a huge subsector; in fact, it is “the largest employer in England, with 1.2 million staff in over 350 local authorities and in excess of 500 different occupational areas.”* It goes without saying that you won’t be short of options when you’re looking for work.
Local councils employ people in a broad range of frontline occupations, including firefighters, social workers, teachers, street cleaners and sports development officers.
We actually talk about these different career paths in greater detail in other areas of AllAboutCareers, so it’s definitely worth checking out other relevant subsectors. However, in this article, we’re going to focus on the various careers that you can pursue behind the scenes in local council offices.
Who works in local government?
The primary decision-makers in local councils are the councillors that are elected by local voters. However, these guys are supported by a huge range of dedicated professionals.
Understandably, all local councils need to be run smoothly and effectively. Consequently, you could move into an administrative support role; you could be managing personnel issues within an HR department; you could be using your knowledge of maths and economics within a financial management role; you could be using your marketing expertise to publicise local initiatives and policies; or you could be keeping the council’s computer systems up-to-date and fully-functional as part of a dynamic I.T. team.
If you want to have more of an active input in the formulation of council policies, you could look into becoming a research analyst who is dedicated to understanding local community needs, conducting research studies and passing on information that influences decision-making processes.
Whatever your academic background, you will be able to find a career within a local government organisation. Understandably, some roles will demand that you have a degree, such as research analyst positions.
However, other roles will solely require you to have relevant work experience and a handful of GCSEs (including English and Maths), such as lower-level administrative positions.
If you’re looking for a route in, you have a bunch of options at your fingertips. A popular route at the moment is through the local government’s very own graduate scheme, known as the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP).
According to the NGDP website, the scheme “recruits 50+ NMTs (National Management Trainees) to join the programme each October. In order to apply you should have an achieved or predicted 2.1 in any discipline or a Merit at Masters level and you should be eligible to work in the UK without a permit.”*
If you have chosen to take the non-uni route, then you could join a local council’s apprenticeship scheme. These opportunities vary between organisations; however, you could begin your training and forge a career in many different areas of work, from I.T. and social care, to administrative support and customer service.
Many local councils are keen to offer work experience opportunities to students. This could be a fantastic way for you to get your foot in the door, make some contacts and impress future employers. Some councils might offer formal work experience schemes, but if they don’t, you should give them a call, enquire about opportunities and send them your CV and a cover letter.
If you are interested and passionate about local government, but want to work for a central government department, you could consider working for the Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG).
This department is hugely integral to implementing the current government’s Big Society initiative, which aims to transfer government action to local action “so people can make more decisions locally and solve their own problems to create strong, attractive and thriving neighbourhoods.”*
At the moment, the primary route of entry into this department is via the Civil Service Fast Stream graduate programme.
So, if you want to make a difference in your local community, you should definitely explore a career in local government!