Opinion split on whether public sector IT workers can hack it in the private sector

I blogged back in February about some research that revealed that over half (52%) of private sector companies a do not think public sector IT workers could do an effective job in the private sector.

I wrote this with the backdrop of public sector job cuts and a hope that the private sector would pick up the slack. The research was from the Financial Times and the 52% was from a sample of private sector employers.

I opened up the question to the IT industry so in a Google survey I asked: Are public sector IT workers equipped to do private sector IT jobs?

I have had exactly 100 responses and can reveal that 51% said public sector IT workers are not equipped to do private sector IT jobs, while 49% said they were. Pretty similar to the FT findings but the sample is probably mixed between public and private sector workers.

Here are some of the other questions I asked and the advice I got for public sector IT workers trying to break into the public sector.

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  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.”

– “Architecture.”

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 think 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.”