Public Service vs. Academia – my current observations

So I’ve been working for a government organisation for just over 18 months now. After working for a university, it’s been an interesting transition. I realise that, having never been exposed to ‘Corporate land’, I may have some bias but this post will take a look at a few of the things I’ve noticed that are extremely different…and a few that are *exactly* the same.

Things that are exactly the same:
– Red tape controls everything. If you want something, it’s 17 forms, filed in triplicate and if you don’t hand them to exactly the right people in the correct order, go back to the beginning and start again. An example given to me – ordering something (I’m not going to say what) that cost under $30,000 required SEVENTEEN signatures. That’s not a mistype there – One. Seven. Seventeen. That is an insane amount of people required to approve something. I’d really like to know what stopped them from upping it to 19 or 23. This is pretty much the same in universities, though I’d never seen it taken to quite that level, the highest I ever saw in my time was 7.
– Relating to the above, the hierarchies within both are very similar. An abundance of middle management and at least 4 layers between base staff and a director. It can mean a large amount of staff doing management and only a small amount of staff doing the front-line work.
– People are entrenched within the public service and this is the same within universities. There are people who have spent their entire working lives within the public service (again, the same within universities). Don’t get me wrong, it’s interesting to hear their stories regarding how things have changed and how things are exactly the same. But it concerns me – the volatility of today’s job market is scary. And the fact that a number of the protections that used to exist, no longer do, mean that some of these people (and I’m sure this has already happened) may lose their jobs. It concerns me that they’ll have nowhere to go.

Things that are very different:
– Within government, internet access is far, FAR more restricted within the government. Things that I would normally have open access to from within a university I most certainly do not have access to within a government network. I understand some of the restrictions. But not all. There are things I rely on for my job that I don’t have access to and either have to find a way around the block (which is exceptionally hard to do) or use my own laptop/smart phone with my own network access to be able to view/access this material. It can certainly make things slow.
– The dress code is insanely different. After working at a university, my standard attire was Converse, jeans, decent t-shirt and if I felt girly that morning, perhaps some mascara. I could even get away with wearing my dog collar! Government…yeah, not so much. Smart casual, make-up…HEELS! It’s been an interesting adjustment. I’m not sure which I liked more. I certainly agree on the whole “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have” and that may be the reason that I like dressing up…just not all the time. I really do miss my jeans and cons 🙁
– University is far more relaxed. While the academics themselves may think that having their email is a life or death situation, it really isn’t. And it’s treated as such. Sure, there are response times, but if email is out for 15 minutes, the world isn’t going to end. If, however, you’re in charge or a critical system (for example, the system that provides license and registration information) then it’s a different kettle of fish altogether. I actually like the fast-paced of government in regards to this. Being on-call is a part of being part of government IT. And they mean business when they gives you response times.

I’m sure there are others, but these were the top three on either side that I could think of that I wanted down in writing. I may come back and re-edit this piece when I can add more to both sides.

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