Go back

Civil service fast stream welcomes more applicants from science and engineering

The highly competitive UK civil service fast stream scheme, aimed at fast-tracking candidates into top-level jobs, opened for applications on 17 September. However, the number of science and engineering vacancies to be filled by the scheme remains relatively low.

Martin Briggs from Civil Service Resourcing, the division of the civil service’s HR department that manages the scheme, says that although he would like to see the number of science and engineering roles grow, it might not be possible: “We will recruit as many science and engineering fast streamers that a department says it needs—it is demand led,” he says.

Briggs adds that departments taking on science and engineering fast streamers don’t always have enough “solid science work” to offer the kind of high-flying careers that the candidates expect.

Between 500 and 600 candidates are likely to be recruited through the fast-stream scheme. The graduate fast stream is one of two broad categories in the scheme. Only 10-12 graduate candidates are expected to be appointed in specific science and engineering roles. Fast streamers are also recruited among more experienced professionals from fields such as economics, human resources, technology in business, and statistics. Among these, some 30 candidates will work in statistics and another 30 in roles described as “technology in business”.

In 2010, only 71 out of 465 fast streamers had degrees in science, technology, engineering or medicine. This compares with 159 candidates with degrees in economics and 171 who had degrees in the humanities and social sciences.

Commenting on the issue during a live chat on Facebook on 20 September, cabinet secretary Jeremy Heywood said: “I personally would welcome more applications from people with a STEM background. It is fundamentally important for the future of the UK economy and therefore for the civil service so this is definitely a trend we keep under close review.”

This year, the programme has been reformed to offer a more structured, standardised career path of two years’ broader training followed by two 12-month placements. Fast streamers will be expected to move more between departments as well as take up secondments outside the civil service.

Briggs says these changes have not been designed to boost the number of science and engineering jobs. However, he hopes that increased opportunities for candidates to move between the departments could lead to more such opportunities.

Earlier this year, a report by the scientists’ trade union Prospect argued that fewer than 1 per cent of around 5,000 senior civil servants have a science background and just 2.8 per cent class themselves as engineers. Sue Ferns, Prospect’s head of research, told Research Fortnight that although the union will do what it can in terms of raising awareness of the fast stream, it’s important to remember that the scheme is not the only way for scientists to enter the civil service. “The government needs to ensure the widest possible access to all routes—not just the fast stream,” she says.

Beth Hogben, head of skills and profession development at the Government Office for Science, says that fewer than 4 per cent of Whitehall’s scientists and engineers that are members of the Government Science and Engineering network joined the civil service through this route. Most scientists and engineers in government are employed by a specific department or agency that runs its own recruitment for the specific skills and expertise it needs, she says.