What is a Civil Servant? We hear about them on the news and know that they have something to do with the public sector and working in government. This article documents my experience shadowing a Fast Streamer, who works in the Department for Transport and how Civil Servants do so much behind the scenes.

I found the Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP) on the Civil Service website, and applied in January 2017. The internship is only available for first year students in order to give an insight to how one can shape their degree to adhere to a specific fast stream scheme. The application process was particularly in depth, as I had to complete a behavioural and situational judgement test in the February. This was followed by a phone interview about a month before the internship started, whereby I was asked questions regarding the Civil Service’s competences which included: collaborating and partnering, making effective decisions and seeing the ‘Big Picture’.

When I found out I had achieved a place on the EDIP, I was ecstatic. I imagined myself walking through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), brushing shoulders with ministers and seeing the inner workings of foreign affairs. I then found out I was actually going to be placed in the Department for Transport (Dft), which didn’t exude glamour. As a language student, I have no interest in cars or trains, and I expected everyone who worked there to be an engineer or a railway enthusiast. Although the latter was apparent in some of the people I met, my initial assumptions were wholly incorrect. On the first day of the internship during the Opening Ceremony in the swanky Locarno suite in the FCO, we were informed that 450 people applied for the internship, and only 120 were selected, which made me feel proud that I had achieved such a sought after position.

The Opening Ceremony in the Locarno Suite in the FCO

The Civil Servant I shadowed was a Fast Streamer, (which is basically a person who spends their first three years in the Civil Service learning roles at a fast pace), who worked in HR in the Dft. There are many different fast streams, encompassing various attributes, from the Generalist Stream which enables a diverse introduction across several government departments, to the economist stream which is particularly subject specific.

A typical day of the internship for me included a gruelling one and half hour commute from Kent into London, grabbing a coffee from St. Pancras International, then running for the tube, along with the normal commuting crowd. I would then meet my Fast Streamer at the Dft and she would talk through our day’s itinerary; which included meetings with lots of people from various departments and different levels within the Civil Service. The organisers of the internship, the Fast Stream Early Talent Department, also planned a tour of the Houses of Parliament for us during the week which was incredible.

The main point I took away from this internship is that regardless of which government department you work in, there are many diverse roles which enable you to use your skills. On the final day of my internship, I sat in on a meeting with Japanese business men who were discussing the details of a secondment for someone working in the Dft. My Fast Streamer, as a HR specialist, noted down the terms of the secondment which she would then use to prepare a contract. I was then informed that this international secondment was the first of its kind within the Dft, and I was fortunate to witness it happening.

This furthered my understanding of the vast jobs within the Civil Service, and how they are always changing. I previously assumed that as a language student surely I would only be suited to the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office), when in fact my language skills and any other skills I would learn on the Fast Stream can be translated into any Government Department.

The EDIP has motivated me to aspire to working in the Civil Service; regardless of which department you work in, your job will involve work that affects real people in the UK and abroad. I would encourage anyone to look into working for the Civil Service, especially to any students graduating soon to research the Fast Stream. You could be based in the FCO, the Home Office, or even the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and so many more! If you want to find out more, there’s information here: https://www.faststream.gov.uk

Three pieces of advice for future applicants of the Fast Stream/ the Civil Service:

  1. Research the types of job you could do, there are plenty! You can then shape your degree or find relevant experience to help strengthen your application.: https://www.faststream.gov.uk
  2. Learn a language, or resume learning a language from the distant GCSE memory: Having the ability to speak another language gives you an edge other applicants may not have, and the necessity to speak European languages is more important now than ever.
  3. Networking: this was one of the crucial parts of the internship, as participants were instructed to make as many connections as possible. This enables you to keep in contact with people who may be able to help you in your future professional career, and you can maybe help them too.