Career story: how to excel as a junior economist

By Kevin John

February 4, 2021


What does a day in your shoes feel like? And what are the key skills that can make or break a career in your field?

A diverse group of public servants shared their career stories; in this one, Kevin John explains why being able to influence the future of a country and the lives of fellow citizens are among the greatest privileges of being a public servant.

What is your role in government and how do you spend your time on a standard workday?

I’m currently a junior economist at Her Majesty’s Treasury of the UK, where I joined in September 2019. I was fortunate to start my career in the office environment which had allowed me to network and establish a daily routine for my work.

At the moment, my standard workday starts at 9am and finishes at 5:30pm, but in the run-up to fiscal events (such as Spending Review 2020), the hours went a bit crazy. A spending review is the UK government’s process for laying out the expenditure limits departments get each year. Areas such as Health and Social Security have seen rises in funds available for obvious reasons. Essentially, it’s an exercise that ensures resources are being used in a sustainable and effective manner.

The best part of my work is having easy access to the country’s best and established professionals in their respective fields.

I tend to clear my work stream actions and emails in the morning, as this is when it is normally quiet. After lunch, meetings will start to take over the calendar, but we’re quite good as a department at balancing our wellbeing needs. Meetings vary from attendees and content, from political advisers and senior officials to low-level policy delivery with the team. The work from home routine was difficult to start with, but as the IT infrastructure started rolling out improved software, virtual cooperation has become second nature. I would be happy to continue a blended approach to working in a post-pandemic environment.

 In your opinion, what are the most important skills someone needs to excel in your field?

Being able to collaborate efficiently and adapt to different styles of working, I think, are very important skills to master as early as possible.

This includes knowing who works on what and making sure you have the appropriate people at meetings who can address different issues. The civil service is a great employer that championed flexible working ways before 2020. That said, it was definitely a culture shock for my department going into a virtual medium.

In many ways, it enhanced the information flow, because it gave more people the ability to attend critical meetings. However, it also creates security issues. The scope of work done in government is sensitive by nature, and there are many ‘actors’ who would love access to it. Documents are just not as secure on your laptop, compared to being in a controlled environment where access is monitored. If you get to grips with these things early, you will certainly notice a change in the quality and speed at which you deliver your work.

What is your favourite part of your job? What would you change if you could wave a magic wand?

The best part of my work is having easy access to the country’s best and established professionals in their respective fields. I’m certainly fortunate to be in an environment where curiosity is encouraged and this has allowed me to interact with the different professions that the civil service has to offer.

These include analytics and policy, all the way to public communications. Senior officials are always willing to talk about anything, and they always say it provides a really good break in their day. I think they also get a kick from providing quality advice and nurturing future talent.

I would love to see a more diverse Treasury, and this is a priority for the executive team who run the department

I would love to see a more diverse Treasury, and this is a priority for the executive team who run the department. Representation at higher levels of the civil service is far below where it should be. However, this will still take time as you have to attract those who would have previously not applied for a role in government, and then help and sponsor this talent all the way to the top positions. I think by doing this, we would deliver policy that impacts and reflects on everyone in each corner of the country.

What advice would you give to young public servants who are interested in a career in your field?

Embrace your curiosity! If you join the civil service or any employer on a managed scheme, this does not constrain you from being proactive about your development and career goals. Reach out to others who work on areas that interest you, and find out how you can get involved. Although a hierarchy exists in many companies, this does certainly not extend to personal conversations. If anything, it is encouraged and highly advised for people in their early career.

Doing your own research into these different fields is also hugely beneficial, as you develop and evaluate your own understanding of how work  fits into the bigger picture. You’re only a Google search away from limitless information, from reading others’ experiences or government publications on economic forecasts. This will undoubtedly aid in finding a career path which intrigues and interests you, whilst also unleashing your potential.

This article is curated from Apolitical.

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