Understanding your sector
Understanding your sector

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2 Identifying which employer is right for you

Clearly the different types of organisation that have been identified so far have different characteristics and operate in different ways. Understanding how big companies are different from SMEs, or how the private sector is different from the public sector, can be useful in helping you to think through where your own career goals might lie.

Characterising organisations in this way must be accompanied by a note of caution, however. Just because two organisations are both private sector does not mean that their values and way of operating will necessarily be the same. In the same way, two third sector organisations can be very different in their cultures and practices. Nevertheless, it is possible to draw out some distinctions as follows.

Public sector

The public sector includes the civil service, the NHS, the armed and emergency services plus the majority of education, community and social services, and the BBC. More locally, it includes councils responsible for public housing, waste management, libraries, roads and traffic, planning, environmental health and consumer protection, and the arts and leisure. Not surprisingly, the culture tends to reflect the aim of providing services to the public and meeting national and local needs.

Private sector

This consists of a variety of businesses and services across all areas of the economy that are generally run for profit. It ranges from sole traders through partnerships and small companies to large multinational corporations. Private sector organisations compete with other businesses to sell goods and services in order to generate profit, both for reinvestment and to provide a return to the owners or shareholders.

Third sector

This is a growing area of the UK economy comprising non-governmental and non-profit-making organisations, including charities, voluntary and community groups, and cooperatives, mutuals and social enterprises These often operate in areas of social and health care, education and community justice. Their culture is similar to that of the public sector but, crucially, they are not funded from public money through taxes but rely on selling goods and services.

Activity 3 Advantages and disadvantages of different sectors

Timing: Allow about 30 minutes

The following links will take you to resources which explore differences between working in different sectors of the economy:

Bearing in mind the descriptions given above, identify what you think might be the advantages and disadvantages for you personally of working in each sector.

Table 4 Advantages and disadvantages of different sectors

Category Advantages Disadvantages
Public sector
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Private sector
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Third sector
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
To use this interactive functionality a free OU account is required. Sign in or register.
Words: 0
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Do you feel particularly drawn to one area rather than another and, if so, why? Think about this for a minute or two and make some notes in your notebook or the Toolkit to reflect your thoughts.

Comment

This is obviously a very personal judgement and your responses will vary according to your personality, your interests and your outlook on life. The following table indicates some commonly held ideas about the differences between working in the public, private and third sectors; how you feel about them will be completely up to you.

Table 5 Suggested advantages and disadvantages of different sectors

Category Advantages Disadvantages
Public sector
  • Providing public services
  • Helping people and making a difference to their lives
  • Less competitive
  • More secure employment
  • Better conditions of employment
  • Lower pay
  • May be involved in work that is emotionally demanding
  • Progression can be slow
  • Can be criticised by the hostile media
Private sector
  • Higher pay
  • Progression can be swift according to results
  • Less constrained by legislation and ‘red tape’
  • Can see results in sales figures, profits, etc.
  • Less secure
  • Vulnerable to commercial pressures
  • Can involve high pressure
  • Poorer conditions of employment
Third sector
  • Providing worthwhile goods or services
  • Feeling of making a difference to people’s lives
  • Can link work with personal values
  • Some support available from government
  • Can rely heavily on volunteers
  • May be involved in work that is emotionally demanding
  • Jobs can be vulnerable to commercial pressures

Thinking through how you might feel working in each of the sectors will give you a better understanding of your preferences and will help you to decide which areas to focus on when researching different fields of employment.

In addition to the differences that have been identified in the broad characteristics of different types of organisation, there are also differences in the way in which they recruit employees. The next section will help you to understand how organisations in different sectors go about getting the staff they need.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371