Private Secretary at Civil Service

Start Date:
Yorkshire & The Humber
Programme Type:
Apprenticeship - Higher Level (Level 4/5)
£28,000 annually
Review Date:
May 2018

Connect with Civil Service

Review Score

9 /10

1. Please give an overview of your role and what this involves on a day-to-day basis:


I have had two jobs in my apprenticeship, it's a 2 year Finance program with two placements. My first job consisted of Financial Business Partner support, where I supported them conducting routine financial management for large contracts. This included elements of forecasting, accruals, journals, using spreadsheets etc. My second placement is Private Secretary to the Finance Transformation Director - providing senior level support to both the director and the Programme of change evolving our Finance Group. This involves a lot of stakeholder management, challenging/supporting senior leadership team, being a trusted advisor, managing/supporting events etc.

2. Have you learnt any new skills or developed existing skills?


A wealth of new skills: technically I gained a certificate level CIMA qualification and also an NVQ in Business Administration and ICT skills. I have improved my spreadsheet/out look and PowerPoint skills. On a personal level this placement has given me confidence, made me realise my potential, helped me to feel supported. I have been able to have exposure to a lot of senior leaders and senior events, where I have spoken/presented/facilitated which has enabled me to overcome anxieties. My second placement has also been a change program which has allowed me to understand how a project works.

3. To what extent do you enjoy your programme?


I have thoroughly enjoyed my placement within the Department for Work and Pensions. It is a very large and diverse organisations with a lot to learn and a lot to take in. I like working for a Public Sector organisation with a belief that we are genuinely working to improve people's lives. This is a great program as it is a great way to bring younger talent into the Civil Service. Unfortunately within DWP we have an ageing demographic which results in a lot of younger people within the Department feeling isolated. I hope the trajectory of apprenticeship intakes continue to rise, in order to build on the good work already achieved by the young people within the organisation. I feel like there is much opportunity available, and for the first time since leaving university I felt like I had options.

4. How valued do you feel by Civil Service?


I definitely feel valued as an apprentice within the organisation. When my cohort started, the Fast Track Apprenticeship program was a relatively new initiative and a lot of people didn't know much about it. Because of that I have done lots to upskill people and really get people involved. It has been great to see reap the rewards of putting so much effort in, and in January I won the Emerging Talent of the Year award (previously apprentice of the year). I did not feel any stigma from being an apprentice, and have felt valued at all aspects of my job from people of all grades who value my abilities and perspective on things. Some managers can understand and utilise apprentices better than others, and that is purely down to personal characteristics but from what I have seen and personal experience, all apprentices have benefitted the organisation.

5. How well organised/structured is your programme?


We had an induction when we first started - this was a good event held down in London with people of all schemes (Finance/Commercials/Business Admin etc) and people from different departments. I still now speak to friends that I had made at that event. Different departments handle apprenticeship entries differently, and perhaps more work could be done to standardise the approach, but DWP Finance ensured we had a buddy and a mentor etc. AAT was our training provider, and when it came to the technical exams we all studied down together in London. The travel was a little annoying but nothing to onerous, and it allowed us to be Civil Servants together - which was better than being lumped in with a variety of different apprentices from Private Sector Departments. I think there could have been more support in terms of bringing apprentices together more often to share experiences etc, I did notice a lack of this and that's why I organised my own event. Team hierarchies are very clear, with an understandable grading system and org charts/ team roles are often explained at a team/management level. Our official Graduation got cancelled earlier this year due to snow, and hasn't been re organised which is a shame. It would have been nice that they could have prioritised this in order to allow everyone to celebrate together but my internal Department held one.

6a. How much support do you receive from your training provider?


All our tutors from Kaplan down in London have been really good, very understanding and supportive. I took my exams in Leeds (as I am based in Sheffield) and when I had unfortunately failed one of my modules, they were very supportive and even offered me private tuition session. I liked the way they had online tutoring session, this was so beneficial for me as sometimes it was difficult to take everything in for a module in two 2 day sessions. We also had an assessor who would support us through our NVQ qualifications. Unfortunately our assessor changed towards the end of the program which was unfortunate but couldn't be helped, although it added extra pressure. However my second assessor was very supportive, and despite having a high workload of students she made me feel comfortable and aimed to work with me to ensure I got what I needed. I think the structure of how they support could be better - I get the impression that Kaplan give their assessors too much of a dispersed and big workload so you can often feel like you have slipped off the radar if you don't chase them a lot.

6b. How much support do you receive from your employer?


It's difficult because the DWP is such a large organisation - a lot of the management is conducted at a team level. Within my first placement I found it very tough, and I didn't feel very supported. It became apparent that management accountancy wasn't a place I would have excelled in, and I was seeking something different. During this time my senior sponsor held monthly chats with me and soon realised I had skills that would be better used in a different role which is when he offered me the opportunity to join his Private Office. I am so happy I joined and I have never looked back. My Line Manager, and the Director (who is still my sponsor) are so understanding and have been so supportive, I couldn't have asked for better. They allowed me all the time off I needed for exams, even allowing me extra time when I needed it. They have supported me through the technical elements, not allowing me to quit and providing help where they could. They planned my work around the requirements that came from the NVQ qualification and took it all into consideration. As I have mentioned before, I recognise that different people can lead apprentices so differently but my Director couldn't have done it better. I never feel under valued, I never feel like my age is a barrier, I always feel like I am trusted, and listened to and given the space to develop and excel in areas I want to explore. He has always been passionate in supporting my future career also and helping me with opportunities, and for that I am very grateful.

7. How well does your salary/package meet your costs?


Considering I started this placement as a 19 year old - the starting salary was 19,500 which is huge for someone of my age. I did move to Sheffield from Grimsby for my job, but I have never felt out of pocket. This has increased over the couple of years as I have entered a Department wide scheme to standardise the salaries across government departments, but because you are paid as a permanent member of staff I do feel lucky. I am also benefitting from an additional salary as due to my work I am on temporary promotion to the grade above.

8. Are there many opportunities outside of work?


There isn't much of a social aspect outside of work, but that is due to a lot of factors and nothing to do with the apprenticeship scheme. It is different all over the country, in London for example there is more of a community of younger people and they do go out a lot after work, they hold events and days etc, but this isn't always reflected in the rest of the country. As a department they do have dress down for charities, bake sales, volunteer days, days for you to join CPD events or things to improve your skills. They do have a social community where you pay a membership and can join certain sporting activities etc. Within your objectives you also have a corporate objective, something outside of your day job, so you are actively encouraged to consider other activities, and I have done this by supporting the scheme so proactively.

9. Would you recommend Civil Service to a friend?


9b. Why?

I 100% always recommend this scheme to everyone. Purely because it is such a great alternative to University. I joined uni for 5 months and left because it wasn't for me - and I wish I had seen the opportunity to apply for this before I went as I don't think I would have. The scheme teaches you so much, and enables you to mature and be responsible.

10. What tips or advice would you give to others applying to Civil Service?

I recently did a blog on what my advice would be which was published as part of this years recruitment intake. In regards to the online assesments I would say take them seriously, take yourself away from distractions and allow yourself the time to conduct them in a calm environment. they are tough - so do the practice questions, but also believe in yourself. They are they to understand how you approach the task, not to see how much of them you get through. Throw yourself into the assessment days, don't sit back and let everyone else dominate - you have a voice and a right to be there so speak up and let your thoughts be heard. The assessment days are good fun and a chance to really push yourself to meet the challenge. Don't let your lack of knowledge of the Civil Service hold you back - throw yourself into it. You get in what you put out, and don't let your apprehension take over. Where you see things you don't agree with then work to improve it. The possibility of a fulfilling career is yours for the taking.

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