Sarah Jeffries’ recent post on the INLOGOV blog highlighted a popular perception, that whilst I don’t share, is certainly familiar to me. The association of professionalism exclusively with the private sector and the notion that the public sector does not allow for such professionalism is of course to some degree a result of political context, but that is not to say it can be entirely attributed to this. The perceived greater efficiency of the private sector compared to the public sector, as Jeffries touches on, is somewhat to be expected. After all, public sector jobs are more likely to exist within large, sprawling bureaucracies, whilst the stereotypical dream private sector job exists within a small, growing, innovative and creative business. For me then, perceptions about the room for professionalism within the public and private sectors are really perceptions about experiences of working in large and small organisations.
By the reasoning contained within these perceptions then, one would expect the internship I started last week to offer me little chance for professional development. Library Services after all, a large organisation in itself, is but a component not just within a university, a public institution which by its very nature must be very large, but also within one of the largest universities in the country. Yet it was evident from my very first day that this was as professional an environment, with as much room for development and innovation, as any typical private sector business.
My first morning involved me being taken around the offices I would be working in (and some I wouldn’t) and introduced to those working there; not a small task. Everyone I met was eager to explain to me their particular specialism, projects they were working on or big changes coming soon. Furthermore, though the total number of staff may be large, they’re overwhelmingly found in small, focussed groups and project teams, driving innovation and progress within themselves. Far from the size of a large bureaucratic institution hanging over me and crushing any chance of professional development, as the popular public-private comparison would imply, the size of the University, and even just of Library Services itself, serves to reveal and open up a multitude of paths for professional development.
Already I’ve been asked to give some input on how several of the library’s processes and systems could be improved, including an invitation to join a focus group considering a potentially large change in how a service is provided.
It is clear to me then not only that public-focussed organisations are no less professional than the private sector, but like all environments, working within it may allow you to develop unique skills and abilities that you could not elsewhere. Whilst then, as Sarah says, popular perceptions of the public sector and universities (which are inextricably linked to it) may prove an obstacle to its ability to recruit the best, I personally will definitely consider a career within a public service organisation, not just as a means to acquire skills valuable in the private sector, but as an interesting and fulfilling environment in itself.