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The difference between private & public sectors

Private to public sector

-By Ali Wibroe, Principal Recruitment Consultant-

The last few months have been a whirlwind to say the least; although we are in a much better position than we were at the beginning of April, we still have a long way to go before things return to what we used to call ‘normal’.

The commercial property market has taken a big hit, with fears that there will be a lasting impact for years to come. It’s no surprise that many businesses have experienced a tough time and despite government schemes on offer, they will inevitably still have to make redundancies. Fortunately, however, I have witnessed many public clients adapt to the climate and continue to operate without reducing staff.

Whilst many people have used lockdown as a time of reflection, and are reconsidering their careers, I wanted to shine a light on the benefits of the public sector for those contemplating a move. 

I spoke with Richard Grass, a public sector consultant, to gather his thoughts on moving into the public sector. Richard started his career in the private sector and then set up his own consultancy business, where he now advises public sector clients. We asked Richard a few different questions about his experience transitioning from the private sector and what advice he’d give to someone thinking about doing the same.

Private to public sector

In your opinion, how do the private & public sectors differ?

“It’s important to recognise each area of the public sector has its own drivers and challenges, e.g. local government is quite different in many ways from central government and the NHS. Also there are some significant differences between inner London Boroughs and small rural districts or shire authorities in terms of the services they deliver, demographics, property markets etc. But what they do have in common is a public service ethos, and often quite complex stakeholder environments (plus of course the party political dimension in local government).

This means that decisions around asset use are often not made purely on financial grounds, but with consideration to a far wider range of factors including social benefit. For someone coming from a largely commercial background that does take a while to properly understand. This means of course, that decisions often take longer to make and require wider consultation, and understanding of those different stakeholder perspectives and ability to build consensus. Patience and persistence is definitely a virtue for anyone working in the public sector! “

Why did you decide to move into the public sector?

“For me as a consultant working with some larger consultancies and then independently as Realign Consulting, this wasn’t a sudden switch from private to public sectors rather something that happened gradually over several years. But there came a point around 12 years ago when I did make a conscious decision to focus wholly on public sector clients. I decided to focus my efforts on building my network and understanding of public sector real estate challenges.”

What challenges did you face?

“The whole area of public procurement regulations was and is still a challenge. On the one hand, it is time-consuming and bureaucratic but at the same time, it imposes a useful discipline on clients. They need to be clear at the outset about their objectives and desired outcomes before they approach the market for advice. There is a constant flow of tender opportunities from the public sector.

The other challenge as an independent consultant is that there is none of the support infrastructures that exist within larger businesses. You have to work very hard to keep up to date with new thinking, market trends and professional development in order to remain relevant.”

Private to public sector

How has your background benefitted you?

“I think my career background as a commercial agent and then a consultant to a range of private sector organisations has definitely helped with my work for public sector clients. It gave me not only a good understanding of the real estate market and investment drivers but also exposure to leading-edge thinking, projects on portfolio strategy, workplace and organisational design & performance. All of these skills have proved very transferrable into the public sector arena.”

What advice would you give to anyone looking to make the change?

“The most important advice I could offer anyone thinking of making a change is to ask yourself whether you are likely to be temperamentally suited to this kind of multi-stakeholder environment where motivations and decisions can be much more nuanced. Really take the time to research and understand the type of public sector organisation or client that you are thinking of working for – what services are they providing, how does property support the delivery of those services, who are the stakeholders, what are their priorities, and what is the process through which decisions are made about assets. 

A career in the public sector offers more variety than some may think; the layers of complexities and challenges that come with the territory is clear to see. Contrary to what many may believe, the public sector can offer equal career opportunities that rival that of the private sector.”

Private to public sector

“Having worked with both sectors over the last four years, one thing that has become more apparent is the need for commercial people to join the public sector. This is due in part to less funding, hence a need to generate revenue elsewhere, namely property.”

Ali Wibroe, Principal Recruitment Consultant

The property world now has a lot of challenges ahead but life will inevitably get back on track. If your job is under threat in the private sector then becoming a consultant in the public sector might be a good way to test if it’s for you without the commitment. Now is a great time to work in an environment where you can give back to communities.


If you’re contemplating a move into the public sector and would like an initial chat, please contact ali.wibroe@oysterpartnership.com.

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