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Public sector IT professional guide to moving to private sector

Karl Flinders

The UK’s largest businesses are increasingly willing to take on ex-public sector workers, according to research from Barclays Bank.

In its Job Creation Survey 2013, the bank found that 60% of the largest UK companies are willing to hire former public sector staff compared with 38% in 2012.

IT professionals in the public sector have been hit hard by cuts and IT outsourcing as the government cuts budgets. Although 56% believe there will not be enough private sector job growth to fill the gap created by public sector cuts, the private sector is being seen by government as a destination for new jobs.

The study found that while large companies are most likely to say that ex-public sector workers are "quite well" or "very well" equipped to take on a role in their business, 52% of UK businesses as a whole believe public sector workers are "not very" or "not at all" equipped to take on a position at their company.

The figures are similar if you just consider IT jobs. A Computer Weekly online survey in 2011 revealed that 51% said public sector IT workers are not equipped to do private sector IT jobs, while 49% said they were.

IT professionals moving from the public to the private sector face change.

On the difference between working in public and private sector IT departments, one IT professional interviewed by Computer Weekly, in 2011 when the public sector started haemorrhaging staff, said:

  • "Public sector IT is much larger and is driven by the commercial department instead of IT. The solution focuses primarily on the numbers and the overall business benefit comes way down the list."
  • "Words that describe working in public sector: individual islands, frustration, working for a department, shirking any accountability, fear of misinterpretation, bunker mentality, ordered, driven by job security, stove-piped hierarchy without leadership. Words to describe working for private suppliers: driven by success or competitive failure, focus on working as a project team, learn by being allowed to make mistakes, recognition by peers, growth is seen as positive instead of a further cost to the nation."
  • "The private sector is vastly more aggressive environment."
  • "The main difference I've noticed is the willingness to take decisions instead of fudging them and management and direction being committee-bound. Also, for the most part, I haven't noticed the same commercial pressures or the same time is money consciousness in the public sector. So, in many respects it's the attitude once again, but not of those on the front line, more the attitudes of those who are in management layers."

The advice, from IT professionals, for public sector IT professionals attempting to get into the private sector is:

  • "Be prepared to start lower than your pay grade and work your way up by learning that business speaks more clearly than politics."
  • "Rethink your aspirations and attitude. Start shouldering some responsibility and read industry magazines to at least try to stay in touch with the pace of technology."
  • "Go contracting."
  • "Be prepared for an awful lot of knockbacks based on preconceptions of what the recruitment industry and the industry itself thinks you are."

On opportunities for public sector IT professionals in the private sector they said:

  • "I work in the public sector. Having come over from the private sector I can't see a lot of people that would be able to make the transition the other way. I think that the key skill that is lacking tends to be attitude. There are a lot of very good and very clever civil servants, but they are in the minority and I can see that they are usually destined to reach the higher levels of management."
  • "For my own part, it appears to be the opportunities are limited to poacher turned gamekeeper - moving to defence suppliers as either project/engineering resources or as interims. It's pretty bleak. Yet, there are still companies where you would expect defence IT professionals to gravitate to, but for some reason the skills don't appear to be transferable."

On what training IT workers that are looking to move from the public sector to the private sector should take-up, they said:

  • "Courses in risk taking, assertiveness and simple finance to help understand profit as a driver for change."
  • "It depends on the level of staff and what role they currently do or would aspire to in the private sector. I suppose things like agile methodology, web technologies, architecture skills, service management."
  • "TOGAF or ITIL, depending on job."
  • "Java, Agile, ITIL, Prince - the usual offenders."
  • "My recent experience of private sector tells me that web skills, agile and RAD, and architecture to platform systems over the long term enabling re-use and sharing."

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