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Public sector engineering

The Forth BridgeNot all engineering is done by private companies. Find out why the government needs engineers too.

What is the public sector?

Public sector work is work done by government organisations - as opposed to private sector work done by businesses. Public sector work includes teaching, working for the NHS, working in local or national government offices and much more.

The government is responsible for a large number of engineering projects, including the road network, defence projects and the equipment used by the Met Office to measure and predict the weather. This means that there are plenty of opportunities for engineers of all kinds to work in the public sector.

How does public sector engineering work?

There are various different sorts of public sector engineering, and opportunities for engineers in all of them.

In some cases, engineers might be employed directly by government organisations. For example, the Met Office employees engineers full time to develop and service its equipment. Full-time engineering jobs are most common in roles like this, where there is ongoing work to be done as well as more particular projects. Another example is NHS estates management (planning and managing hospitals and other buildings): estate managers are often engineers.

Another reason that people might be employed directly by the government is when there are security concerns around the job. For example, the Ministry of Defence employs engineers to work on new technology (although it buys lots of technology from private companies, too).

For other projects, the government might look for help from the private sector. For example, if a new bridge is to be built, engineering firms will be invited to submit designs and budgets and the best option will be selected.

Some things that you might expect to be managed by the public sector are not. For example, the National Grid, which distributes electricity around the UK, is run by a private company. Similarly, the infrastructure of the railways (such as tracks, tunnels and signals) is owned by a private company. Both of these were originally owned and run by the government. When something moves from the government to a private company, it is called privatization.

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