We spoke to Southampton graduates Sevim, Alex and Charley, who are now working for the Civil Service’s ‘Fast Stream’ graduate scheme about their experiences so far and why current students should consider applying.
First of all, can you briefly explain a bit about what exactly the Fast Stream programme is?
Sevim: I know that when I was a student, ‘Civil Service’ or ‘Fast Stream’ wouldn’t have meant much to me! Basically, the Civil Service is the organisation that turns the government’s ideas into action. We’re probably more familiar if you think about individual government departments. Between us, we’ve worked in the Department for Education, Ministry of Justice, Department for Work and Pensions, Department of Health, Cabinet Office and Home Office.
Charley: The Fast Stream is the Civil Service’s graduate scheme, but it’s actually more a collection of different schemes. We’re on the generalist scheme, which is one of the largest, and we get to do a huge variety of roles across many departments. There are also more specific schemes for diplomacy (so the Foreign Office), project delivery, commercial, human resources, statistics, science and engineering… Loads, actually.
What do you feel you have gained from the Fast Stream programme?
Alex: I personally feel like I’ve become much more confident since starting. While working in the Civil Service I’ve met with barristers, university deputy vice chancellors and government ministers. You get given some really challenging tasks early on in your career, so it’s a fantastic way to progress quickly.
Do you feel that your work as part of the Fast Stream has an impact?
Sevim: You only need to open a newspaper to see what the Civil Service is working on! Civil Servants are the ones who provide advice to Government Ministers and deliver their policies, as well as being responsible for large amounts of public money, so our work definitely feels important. At the moment Alex and I are working in the Department of Health. I’m looking at the effects of exiting the European Union and Alex is working on NHS finance.
Charley: I worked in the Home Office on legislation that’s going through Parliament at the moment which (among other things) makes sure children experiencing a mental health crisis are taken to a place of safety, not a police cell. Knowing you’re working on something that is going to make a tangible difference to people’s lives is a great feeling.
What does the scheme offer that makes it unique?
Sevim: Because government is involved in so many important public services, Fast Streamers get a lot of responsibility early on. It also means that there’s a really wide range of opportunities. The Civil Service’s work covers health, education, defence, justice, climate change, international aid and more. I can’t think of any other role that offers the same sort of opportunities and it gives you a real sense of purpose.
Alex: I think it’s also unique in the way that the Fast Stream is working really hard to make sure that its application process is as fair as possible. Whether you get a role is entirely based on your ability in the assessments rather than where you went to school, what you studied or anything else. Don’t be put off if you’re thinking that we’re not looking for people like you.
What further career development opportunities does the scheme offer?
Sevim: The Fast Stream identifies people with the potential to be the senior civil servants of the future. Senior civil servants are the leaders of their departments and in many cases have responsibility for thousands of staff or billions of public money. You join at a middle management grade and postings are designed to develop your skills and experience. We also receive career development advice from dedicated staff and have regular performance discussions to check that we’re on track. On top of all that, Fast Streamers are able to access lots of training throughout their posting, with some schemes offering professional qualifications.
Alex: That’s true; while I’ve been on the scheme the Civil Service has paid for me to take a project management qualification and, as a generalist, I’m planning on taking a postgraduate certificate in leadership in my third year.
Can you describe a typical day?
Alex: It’s a clichéd answer, but in some ways there is no typical day. That being said, lots of jobs involve developing or rolling out government policies. That might sound a bit abstract, but in practice it means reviewing evidence, talking to stakeholders, or thinking about the consequences of your department doing or not doing something. As an example, in my last job I was asked to look at a particular aspect of education policy. In order to understand how the policy worked in the real world I decided to organise visits to schools to speak to students and teachers in the classroom. It was very odd being back in school, but a really valuable evidence gathering exercise.
What attracted you to the scheme initially?
Alex: You don’t need to have an interest in politics to work for the Civil Service, but I’ve always followed current affairs, so the idea of working on government policy was really appealing.
Charley: I wanted a job where I felt I was making a difference, but I wasn’t exactly sure in what area. The generalist scheme lets me try out lots of different roles, so that appealed to me.
Does degree discipline affect participation?
Charley: We’re looking for students from all degree disciplines. Many of the schemes are open to students from any degree background and there’s nothing stop you applying for more than one scheme.
The Fast Stream is open for applications until 30th November. Further details are available online. You can contact Southampton’s Fast Stream campus ambassadors at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sotonfaststream.