Are you interested in working in the public service, but you’re not sure a public servant does?
This article will break down how to get into the industry, the roles and responsibilities of a public servant, the job highlights, and much more.
Let’s dive in!
Roger Pegler is a Principal Data Architect with the NSW Public Service Commission. The Public Service Commission works with the NSW Public Service to help them manage their workforce of 400,000 public servants.
To put it simply, Roger analyses and pulls the meaning out of data to tell stories!
How did you end up in this role?
Before working in public service, Roger worked in consulting and private enterprise. While working as a consultant with a government department, he was drawn to the people, what they were doing, and the more regular hours that come with working in the Public Service.
Studies and Experience
Roger studied Bachelor’s degrees in Computer Science and Accounting. After university, Roger undertook his professional year and became a chartered accountant.
What made you want to work in this industry?
“I’d been in private enterprise and working in consulting for a long time. I was doing long hours every week and I’d got to a stage of life where I didn’t want to work those hours… So I was looking for a role where I could [have] more normal hours and be more in control of that work/life balance,” Roger said.
While consulting with a government department, he said, “I really liked the people and the work they were doing.” So when a role became available, Roger explored it further and has been a public servant ever since!
What is a Public Servant?
A public servant is someone who works for the Public Service in local, state, or territory governments. Since it’s a broad industry, you can pursue a career in administration, management, and technical areas such as public policy, welfare, construction, health, and construction.
Roles and Responsibilities
Public servants work in all sorts of industries, so they can have a variety of responsibilities.
Some of the areas that public servants work in within the NSW Public Service include:
- Department of Education
- Transport for NSW
- NSW Health
- Department of Communities and Justice
- Department of Premier and Cabinet
As broad as the areas are, some general responsibilities can include:
- Communicating and liaising with stakeholders — think colleagues, peers, and other members of the public sector — and citizens
- Representing your organisation at conferences, seminars, and forums
- Providing information for reports, budgets and other documents
As a data architect, Roger makes sure that data is properly understood and used in the best way possible, while also ensuring that potentially sensitive data is protected and has been authorised to use.
Working in a Principal role also comes with seniority. This means that he has a team of people working for him, a budget to engage consultants to help his team, and is responsible for leading activities in his area.
Which industries can this career be found in?
The Public Service is responsible for the smooth running of government organisations, meaning that public servants are needed across industries!
Some of the biggest ones include education, healthcare, transport, policy-making, and administration.
Characteristics and Qualities
As a public servant, you will need highly developed verbal and written communication skills. Whether you teach students, treat patients, or need to communicate with managers and coworkers, public servants need highly developed verbal and written communication skills.
Being able to communicate well also comes with the need to be able to actively listen to others and think critically.
Steps to Becoming a Public Servant
What should you study?
Since the Public Service encompasses everything from healthcare and teaching to administration and policy-making, you can study almost any degree and find a role that suits you. If you want to work for the Australian Public Service, there are pathways for those who are finishing high school, currently studying at university, or have recently graduated with an undergraduate degree.
Head here to find out all about the pathways available to you!
NSW Government Graduate Program
If you’re interested in working for the state government, you could consider applying for the NSW Government Graduate Program. This program offers a Primary and Legal stream for recent graduates from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds, and successful graduates will be offered a permanent role once the program finishes.
The Primary Stream is open to graduates who have recently completed an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. Graduates will complete a Graduate Diploma of Government and three 6-month placements over the 18-month program. To apply for the program, you will need to nominate which areas you would prefer to work in, including:
- Finance, Business, and Economics
- Digital Design
- Communications and Marketing
Graduates in the Legal stream must have completed a law degree and be willing to complete a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice during the program. Legal stream graduates will also gain experience in litigation, developing policy, and providing legal advice.
How long does it take to become a Public Servant?
Completing an undergraduate degree takes around 3-4 years, while completing the NSW State Government graduate program takes 18 months.
Rather than needing specific skills, being technologically and digitally literate and comfortable learning new things are a big bonus. The government is looking to hire people more for their potential than their current skill set, with the expectation that they will be life-long learners.
Roger says, “The technical skills and knowledge I have and I’m using today, some of it didn’t exist five years ago. And in five years time, some of it probably won’t be relevant anymore.”
That being said, it’s highly likely that you will need to use cloud-based services and software, especially if you work at the Public Service Commission.
What will this career look like in the future?
How in-demand is this career?
Public service exhibits medium future growth. This is likely due to the continued need for the services that the public sector provides.
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
Absolutely! Since the Public Service is responsible for running so many of the vital services within the community, there are many different avenues that you can follow during your career.
The Public Service also offers structured training and on-the-job learning. This can include attending conferences in your field, attending training, or learning how to use new platforms on your own.
|Skill Level Rating
|Moderate over the next 5 years
|Very high skill
The Future of this Industry
The Public Service isn’t going away anytime soon, so public servants will continue to be needed.
In NSW in particular, future initiatives will be tied to improving the experience for people accessing public sector services. This includes making it easier to apply for licences, handling estates, and access services and support when starting a family or dealing with a major illness or injury.
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
“People. Even though we’ve been working at home, I would spend hours a day doing what we’re doing, talking, chatting and that sort of thing. And nothing that I do could be done by myself. There’s always other people involved to some extent. So working with them, understanding what’s going on, and sharing successes,” said Roger.
What do you feel is the worst part of this job?
Roger told us, “Unfortunately, I’m going to say red tape. That’s probably not a fair label… But you’ve got to go through the processes, so that if anyone that comes along and questions it you can demonstrate that it is a valid project, that it is well managed, and all the risks [are] covered.”
“Where I work the agency is pretty small so I don’t have to go and deal with multiple levels of management to get anything happening. But I do know, in other parts of the public sector, you have to go report something to your manager, and they have to go to their manager and those sorts of things to get anything to happen. So it can be a little bit slow to get things done.”
Advice for Aspiring Public Servants
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
Knowing what it was actually like to work for the Public Service is something that Roger wishes he’d known earlier in his career.
While people who work in the Public Service may have been paid less than employees of private companies in the past, nowadays salaries are pretty comparable between the two. Plus, the opportunities to work across departments while making a difference to citizens are some of the perks that Roger wishes he knew about before he made the move into public service.
Why should people consider taking on this career?
Working in the public sector can be a great career option if you enjoy working with others, are open to learning continuously, and want to make a difference in the community!
Since the potential careers are so varied, you can follow your interests and work in an area that you enjoy. Whether you want to pursue an area that you have already studied at a tertiary level or want to expand your knowledge and skills in a new area, there are plenty of options.
Public servants can have quite flexible jobs, depending on where in the Public Service they work. During COVID, employees at the Public Service Commission have primarily been working from home.
Plus, there is the option to adjust your working hours around your other commitments. For example, you could work in the morning, attend to other commitments during the day, then continue working in the evening.
However, teachers, nurses, train drivers, and other roles which are shift-based or require in-person attendance are offered less flexibility.
What is the workplace culture like?
Like every workplace, the culture within the Public Service depends on who you work with and how you get along with each other.
Before COVID, Roger found that the culture can even vary within departments!
He said, “We picked up that the employees in a particular office were pretty disgruntled. So their survey results in terms of how happy they were with work were pretty low, their sick leave was higher than average, and the staff turnover was higher.”
“And in another office of the same organisation, the results are quite different. They’re quite happy to be there and that sort of thing. They were quite near each other,” Roger concluded.
Rachel Fieldhouse is a Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and has just completed a double degree in Science and Arts at The University of Sydney, majoring in Chemistry, English, and Linguistics. Rachel’s writing has been published in Concrete Playground, Inside Enterprise, Planting Seeds, and SURG FM, and she currently writes blog posts for Remi AI, a Sydney-based Artificial Intelligence firm. When she’s not writing, you can find Rachel playing her saxophone or flute, or relaxing with some sudoku.