Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Public sector life vs private sector life

Having worked in both the public and private sectors, I feel I can comment on their similarities and differences. Most of my professional life has been spent in the private sector, working in software houses developing applications. I've now worked in the public sector since April 2007 as a Senior Systems Developer for East Northamptonshire Council. I have already written an article describing what I do, so I will not repeat that here. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two structures, to see if they are really so different.

This article will concentrate on the areas of job security and career prospects. To describe all the differences between the two structures would probably necessitate an entire book. I will probably revisit this area in the future, but look at different areas of comparison instead.

What are public and private sector?
First of all, what exactly do we mean by private and public sector? The public sector is that part of a nation that is run by provincial or local government, and will usually include services such as defense, national security, emergency services (police, fire brigade, ambulance etc), town planning and revenue services to name a few.

The private sector are those organisations that are not run by or on the behalf of government. They are funded not by the tax payer through the form of tax, but by private investment.

So the key difference is that private sector industries are largely driven by the pursuit of maximising profits, whereas the public sector is aimed at delivering cost effective services to the community or society at large.

A useful analogy would be to use the BBC and ITV, where the BBC would be the public sector structure, and ITV the private sector structure. The BBC is paid for by the licence payer, whereby ITV is paid funded by private revenue streams.

Career prospects
One key difference between public and private sector is in the structuring of salaries. Government employment provides more security, but promotion is mostly based on seniority, whilst the private industry provides salary increases and promotion based on performance.

The government corporate culture is more structured. The organisational structure is hierarchical whereas in the contemporary private sector, a move towards teamwork and project oriented management is now becoming common.

In certain areas such as health care, many professionals prefer the private sector because of the higher salaries. The private sector is the better alternative if you are looking for quick promotion prospects, while promotion may take longer in the government. In the government sector however, you can climb right to the top of the hierarchical structure. This means that there are more career prospects for promotion should you have the qualifications combined with years of service and patience.

Job security
As stated above, public sector employees on average are more secure than those of the private sector. Sometimes by as much as fifty percent. During the current recession, the private sector has been hit harder than the public sector. As the private sector aims to maximise profits, then this is to be expected.

It is a common practice for employees to start their careers in the public sector, where entry level jobs are more readily available. Government positions are also seen - rightly or wrongly - as the safer option. And as stated already, they have greater job security. This is largely due to the fact that government is responsible for the labor acts and laws - hence they have an obligation to adhere to them.

Neither structure is better than the other, they are simply different and offer different benefits. Public sector offers greater job security and the ability to climb to the top of the ladder. Private sector offers quicker promotion and higher salaries.

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