Summary Civil Service Fast Stream
The "Civil Service Fast Stream" is an accelerated development programme for graduates wishing to work at the heart of central government. Those who join the Fast Stream are guaranteed a series of job placements designed to prepare them for senior managerial positions. Fast Streamers move between projects and sections within their departments at intervals of between 12-18 months; unlike other professions, there are no set dates for rotation. After completing two years in a department, you may be able to switch to another department as a Fast Streamer but this requires permission from your home department.
The Civil Service require a minimum of a 2:2 in any degree discipline from graduate applicants. Generally you must also be a UK or EU National. The Civil Service look for particular competencies from graduate applicants. Graduates must be: results oriented; decisive; good at relationship building; good at making an impact; professional and have flexible thinking.
Both the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development have said that they are looking for people who have got a lot more than the school to college to university standard background. The Department for International Development are looking for people with operational experience in particular. Experience living/working in a developing country, multiple language skills and specific international economic knowledge would be useful for applicants to have.
There is a comprehensive vetting procedure, which asks for details of every job you've had in the previous three years, every country that you've visited and any serious illness that you've had.
The Civil Service Fast Stream is not just one simple graduate programme. It is broken down into various different strands. These are all very different and some are highly specialised. Consequently, some candidates might be right for some, but not for others. The main options you have are 1) the Graduate Fast Stream; 2) the Analytical Fast Stream; 3) the HR Fast Stream; 4) the Technology in Business Fast Stream; 5) the European Fast Stream; and 6) the Northern Ireland Fast Stream. Keep reading and find out a little bit more about each one!
Graduate Fast Stream
The Graduate Fast stream is broken down further into four different parts: 1) Central Departments; 2) Diplomatic Service; 3) Houses of Parliament; and 4) Science and Engineering. If you pursue the Central Departments route, you could be working for any of the central government departments, except for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Here, you will be working at the core of all government activity, and driving forward the big projects that affect all of society.
Working for the Diplomatic Service, is arguably the most exciting and glamorous route to take. You will spend the first two years in the FCO headquarters in Whitehall, delivering foreign policy and delivering services which affect people British citizens abroad. Then you will work abroad for three or four years in an embassy, high commission or consulate. This will allow you to learn about the country you are posted in, understand its people, its culture, and will give you the chance to make a real impact on the issues that are most important to the UK in that area of the world. If you want to work in the Diplomatic Service, you have to put it down as your first preference when you are applying.
A career with the Houses of Parliament Fast Stream will put you right at the heart of British politics. You will be supporting the Speaker, MPs, the Members of the House of Lords, Select Committees and the other staff of the Houses. You might be supporting the operational side of things, analysing new legislations, carrying out financial administration, or drafting reports.
Opportunities within the Science and Engineering Fast Stream are understandably only open to people with degrees in scientific, numerate, I.T. or engineering focused degrees. These careers are not about doing experiments or fixing things; they are all about contributing to the development and delivery of scientific and engineering policies. The main two departments you might be working for here are: the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). You will need the ability to carry out systematic analysis and have a strong understanding of technical issues. You will also need business-focused competencies.
Analytical Fast Stream
The specialist Analytical Fast Stream is obviously all about analysis. This is further broken down into three distinct areas: 1) Government Economic Service (GES); 2) Government Social Research Service (GSR); and 3) Government Statistical Service (GSS). For all these areas, you are going to need a minimum 2:1 degree.
Working as part of the GES, you will work across a range of government departments and use your economic skills to establish the financial benefits and detriments of government activities. To follow this route, you will need an economics degree, or a joint economics degree where 50% of your modules were economics based. You are going to need a sound understanding of economics principles and be able to apply these to practical situations.
Working with the GSR you will be carrying out the necessary quantitative and qualitative social research that provides valuable evidence to support governmental policies and services throughout their creation, development, implementation and operation. You will need a strong mix of professional and technical prowess to take data collection activities by the scruff of the neck and then present expansive research in a succinct and accessible manner. This research plays an integral role in high-level decision making processes. You will need a degree in a relevant social science subject, such as psychology, geography, political science or criminology.
A career with the GSS will involve the collection, analysis and distribution of statistics relating to every aspect of UK society. You might work in a range of departments, including the Office for National Statistics. You will need a numerate degree, and a great understanding of data collection procedures.
HR Fast Stream
The HR Fast Stream programme is all about giving you the opportunity to become a human resources professional within the Civil Service. It is essential that the Civil Service’s workforce has the very best structure and support. Consequently, these guys are hugely important to maintaining the Civil Service’s efficacy and impact; especially in a time of public sector budget cuts. Your two 18-month placements will allow you to learn about a broad range of HR functions and you will be fully supported in gaining chartered membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). To be successful, you are going to need a minimum 2:2 degree and a keen interest in the HR profession.
Technology in Business Fast Stream
The Technology in Business Fast Stream (TiB) is all about I.T. and how it impacts on the business side of the Civil Service. It will allow you to develop your practical and strategic I.T. skills simultaneously and allow you to develop into a professional that will have a significant impact on public sector I.T. business change initiatives in the future. Your degree does not necessarily need to be in an I.T. subject, but you are going to need a 2:1. You must also have the ability to understand and use complex technologies. Furthermore, you’ll need to be able to appreciate how they will impact on government operations.
European Fast Stream
The European Fast Stream is for people that want to become a European Civil Servant. It effectively gives you valuable training that allows you to prepare for the European Union Concours (this is a recruitment competition and examination to select staff for all the institutions of the European Union). A career in this area is all about influencing policy across the entirety of EU. You might be working on initiatives that deal with climate change, terrorism, energy, or transport etc.
For your first two years you will be based in the UK, working on EU related issues within a Civil Service department, such as the FCO, BIS, or Department of Energy and Climate Change. You might even get the chance to do a 6 month internship with the European Commission. You will then take the Concours. If you are unsuccessful, you will stay as a Fast Streamer in the UK. If you are successful, you will begin work within the EU. You will receive language training in French or German as part of your training, since much of the Concours will be conducted in one of these foreign languages. Consequently, you will need an A-Level in French or German (A-C grade) before you can apply. However, experience of these languages at a higher level would be a great bonus.
Northern Ireland Fast Stream
Last but not least, the Northern Ireland Fast Stream is all about serving Northern Ireland (NI). This is a fairly broad strand of the Fast Stream programme and you could find yourself working on all kinds of Civil Service work. However, you are likely to be based in the Greater Belfast area and you will work in a range of different NI Civil Service departments, such as the Department of Finance and Personnel, the Department of Employment and Learning, or the Department for Social Development. You are going to need a 2:2 minimum degree, and a strong desire to work in Northern Ireland.
When deciding which department to apply to on the Graduate Fast Stream, think about which policy area interests you the most rather than the department of state itself. Some departments may sound more interesting or exciting than others, but it is most important for you to be happy about the policy area you will be working on, than anything else.
The Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence and the Treasury are all departments where overall strategy is generally quite consistent each year. If you look at some of the other departments at the Civil Service, you will find that several policy areas are still evolving. Working in these areas may be more exciting and stimulating, and can provide you with more scope to make decisions that directly effect policy.
Applying for the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defense
Almost every candidate favours these departments when applying to the Civil Service. Many people do not get placed in these departments though, commonly because few people understand what working for them really entails or what skills these departments are looking for.
Getting into the Foreign Office and Department for International Development is even more competitive than just getting on the Fast Stream (where just one in one hundred applicants get the job) so it is very important for applicants to do their research. Applicants must also be highly skilled and have a very good academic record.
The process by which the Civil Service place graduates in departments is highly complicated. It is a hard process to manage, which is why candidates may not always end up in the department they have applied to.
Each year HR departments from the ministries submit the number of fast stream vacancies that they anticipate for the coming year, and inform the Cabinet Office. As and when these vacancies come through, the Cabinet Office try to match them up with applicants. The civil service is very varied: departments have different security rules, annual-leave allocations and training budgets.
Although applications are made to all departments, a Fast Streamer's home department treats him/her as their own resource. Moving across departments can be complicated and subject to vetoes by the head of department or line manager. It is particularly difficult when the offices are located in different cities.
Those recruited under the Graduate FastStream are referred to as "policy workers" and are overwhelmingly concentrated in London. Economists, operational researchers and statisticians are grouped as "analysts"; if the department has offices outside London, the analysts are likely to be concentrated there. This reflects the closer contact policy workers have with Ministers; the changeable nature of their work requires proximity to the government.
Although there is an element of luck in relation to which department you end up in, it is still important that you have a clear idea of what it is that each of the departments do when you put down your preferences, a good place to start is each of the Departmental Websites:
And then there's the one that everyone wants or at least most people apply for as first choice, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Is it any wonder that a career as a Diplomat attracts a high number of applicants - extended postings overseas, dealing face-to-face with foreign governments, negotiating British foreign policy, helping British citizens around the world. There are many attractions to it but what you have to realise is that your chances of making it are slim. A question many would be Diplomat's ask themselves is, if I don't make it, will I be happy in the Central Departments? Lateral movement is possible but exceedingly hard, so if you really do have your heart set on the FCO then you should at least know what you're up against. The Cabinet Office has provided a full breakdown of each years Fast Stream so you can at least see what the attrition rate is. It is also useful to dispel those myths that only Oxbridge types get in but whichever way you look at it, making it to the Foreign Office is just about as tough as it gets:
If you don't want to read the whole thing then here's a summary of the FCO for you:
There were just 12 places available in 2010 for the FCO.
1,896 applicants applied for it.
14 appointments were made and the success rate was 0.7%
This shouldn't put you off though, as like the lottery, 'someone has to get through' and you may well be just what the Diplomatic Service is looking for. To research the FCO further there is a huge amount of information available on the FCO website:
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
For the graduate fast stream, you can only defer under certain circumstances: to take part in the Teach First programme, to complete a qualification or course, or due to specific extenuating personal reasons.
Gus O'Donnell, the current head of the civil service, has promoted the taking of secondments outside government to broaden the experience of staff. However, the public-sector cuts have made secondments difficult to obtain. You are not allowed to go on a secondment for the first two years of your job.
Opportunities for secondment are advertised through internal e-mails and may be addressed only to Fast Streamers. The usual practice is for your home department to continue to pay you and manage rights at work.
Departments vary in terms of the training they provide or want you to follow. This really depends on the culture of your HR people. In some departments it is up to the individual fast streamer to make the business case for specific training (such as an MA) and to convince the department to fund this from their training allowance. Fast Streamers in some departments have training budgets of £3000 per year, whereas those in other departments may have no set budget and be expected to justify the need to go on any training.
The National School of Government is the civil service's internal training centre, which provides courses on working with ministers and the structure of government as well as on analytical skills for economists, operational researchers and statisticians. However, the NSG's future is uncertain given the scale of the public-sector spending cuts. Westminster Explained is an independent training provider used by civil servants, as they provide courses on the nature of government and on current departmental policies. Civil servants may attend short university courses and seminars of professional bodies on subjects relevant to their work.
Some departments offer specific training courses, such as "An Introduction to Parliament, Government and the Civil Service".
Working hours and environment varies hugely across departments. In some cases, Fast Streamers seldom have to stay late and have as many as 30 days of annual leave. In other cases, FastStreamers are given deadlines to meet on a daily basis and have as few as 23 days of annual leave. The most intense environment to work in is a minister's private office, in which working hours are very long and you may be disciplined robustly for any mistakes, as they have such important consequences. However, many FastStreamers who work in private office enjoy being at the heart of government and say that it's the reason why they chose to join the civil service. The pace of work tends to be slower in offices outside London.
All departments have 10.5 "privilege days". In addition to the 8 bank holidays, they receive a day off in lieu of the Queen's birthday, an extra day off in the Christmas period and a half-day for Maundy Thursday. In Scotland, St. Andrew's Day is also a privilege day. All departments have flexi-time and comprehensive pension programmes.