How do you transfer from public sector IT to the private sector?

With the public sector currently creating jobs faster than the public sector is cutting them, now could be the time for IT professionals in the public sector to consider a move to the private sector.

Recent government figures revealed that public sector employment fell by 24,000 in the first quarter of 2011 while private sector increased by 104,000 to 23.07 million.

With the public sector expected to increase the amount of outsourcing it does, as well as attempt to cut its costs IT workers in the public sector will be in the firing line

As a lot of the readers of this blog are IT professionals that have done their time in both sectors I asked what it takes to make it in the private sector.

It won’t be easy and it might actually involve working for an IT supplier. 

Here are some of the things that people told me:

I ran a survey some weeks ago and asked whether UK public sector IT workers are equipped to do the job in the private sector?

A total of 96 people responded. 51 said No, while 45 said yes.

Here are some of the other questions I asked and the responses I got.

What advice would you give to public sector IT professionals attempting to get into the private sector?

“Be prepared to start lower than your pay grade and work your way up by learning that business speaks more clearly than politics. Numeracy.”

“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.”

What are the main differences were between working in public sector IT and private sector IT.

“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.  If the public sector were to consider the overall cost of government IT, including the ridiculous number of commercial managers through the life of the contract, then they would probably realise that it makes better sense to start pulling some of the IT work back in house.  It’s an outsourcers dream when they look at UK PLC.”

“I would differentiate private sector into: Public Suppliers and Private Suppliers first. 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 Public Suppliers: (same as Public sector!) because it can use the same techniques to maintain high prices, and long contracts to block competition.  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 of B2 and above.”

What IT skills are most in demand in the private sector?

“In the private sector you are actually being encouraged to make improvements rather than just talking about them or indeed using “oh dear” legislation to block improvements in the public sector.”

“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.”


What opportunities are there for public sector IT professionals in the private sector?

“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.”

“Unfortunately I don’t there are many opportunities for public sector staff, perhaps supplier management.

“For my own part (defence) 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.”

What training would you suggest IT workers that are looking to move from the public sector to the private sector take up?

“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.” Read more about TOGAF with this free dowload from Computer Weekly.

“Java, Agile, ITIL, Prince – the usual offenders.”