Moving from the public to the private sector

As George Osborne announces a further round of spending cuts local government will once again take the biggest hit.  Not only does this suggest that your streets will be that little bit dirtier, and your education and  social services that little bit shabbier, it also means there will be another cohort of local government workers looking outside of the public sector for their next job.

This is no ordinary office building.  It contains council workers who, many suspect, are not capable of working in other office buildings.

This is no ordinary office building. It contains council workers who, many suspect, are not capable of working in other office buildings.

Do they have the skills and competencies to make the switch?

Many of them seem to think not, and there’s no doubt that local government is considered a place where the somewhat less talented can find employment. No doubt there are many on the right who honestly believe that local government is nothing more than an elaborate job creation scheme.

The problem is that many local government workers have fallen for this line and do believe that outside of the public sector they are unemployable.

I don’t believe it for a minute.  I do believe they have a task to convince many private or other not-for-profit employers, but that’s not to say they don’t have anything to offer.

It comes down to understanding transferable skills, exploiting specialist knowledge, and charting a realistic route into the next role using all the available channels.

Transferable Skills

It doesn’t matter where you work, the majority of what makes a person good at their job is not the technical knowledge they hold but they way they deploy that knowledge.  People succeed because they are good at things such as communicating, analysing, thinking strategically, being thorough and methodical, leading people, being able to manage change, amongst many possible capabilities.  Beyond that your technical expertise can probably be adapted fairly easily to a new situation – even if you were to move from one local council to another or from a private company to a competitor, you’d go through some kind of learning and adaptation process, so that part of it is unavoidable.

Exploiting Specialist Knowledge

There’s no question that moving from the public to the private sector is a bigger step than most job changes and there’s no question that employers tend to play safe, particularly in difficult economic times, veering towards people with a background that matches the new role as closely as possible.  However, there are also great opportunities to be derived from thinking a little more creatively.  You have specialist knowledge of the workings of certain aspects of local government so perhaps there are employers that might value that insight?  Similarly, you may have used systems and process that mean you have a particular approach to certain business activities that may be of value outside the local government sector.

A Realistic Route

The difficulty with that last point is that the traditional routes into the job market: recruitment agencies and employer advertising, almost always focus on the search for people with relevant industry experience.  When people make the type of switch I’m talking about it usually comes as a result of a personal encounter, a chance conversation, or, significantly, a proactive approach through networking where such ideas have a chance to be explored fully.  It’s under these circumstances where an employer might see the value in taking on the slightly “quirky” candidate who doesn’t fit the expectations but “will offer us something we don’t have”.

Another aspect of the realistic route approach is to recognise that the not-for-profit sector can often prove to be a suitable stepping stone between the public and private sectors.  The structures and cultures of local government and charities have a fair amount in common with each other, and there is a degree of convergence in some aspects of the work, as well as formal connections that make networking easier.  Think about the links between a housing department and a housing association, or social services and care homes.

If you work in local government, instead of believing that there is no work for you outside of that world, remember that you are no less employable than anyone in the not for profit or private sectors.  It’s tough for everyone to find a job at the moment, but if you approach the task sensibly you stand as good a chance as anyone of making the transition.

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One Response to Moving from the public to the private sector

  1. A great blog post Nick. I like the fact that it’s optimistic but also realistic. I have experience of recruiting in both the public and private sectors and would say that they biggest challenge for public sector workers is finding a way to effectively communicate what they do and how they add value in terms that private sector employers can easily understand. Some times I have found it quite difficult to find out what a public sector worker “actually did”, what the impact was, and how they/it was measured. Too often there is much too much jargon and assumption.

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