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Public vs. Private sector: where should you work?

By Katie Quirk

If you’ve been considering your overall career trajectory or even next job move, it’s likely that the private versus public sector employment debate has entered into the conversation; whether that’s through your own internal dialogue or during conversations with professional mentors, friends and family.

While there is no denying there are great opportunities across both sectors, external influencers like culture, practices and regulations can differ between public and private and some of these will suit some people but not others.

When weighing up what sector is going to lead to the career you want, it can be helpful to consider what is most important to you as an employee, where you place the greatest value in a workplace environment and identify what you want to achieve in the long term.

In saying this, analysing the pros and cons of working in the public and private sector is a worthy and important process when you're thinking about where you want your professional path to lead.

Below, SkillsTalk will offer a top line comparison between the two sectors and highlight the beneficial (and more challenging) aspects of both.

Private vs Public – what’s the difference?

When you're looking at a career in the private or public sector, the key difference to note is that public sector jobs are usually within government agencies or tax payer funded organisations (i.e. teaching, healthcare, emergency services, civil services and city councils) whereas the private space encompasses positions held inside individual businesses or other types of independent companies (i.e. financial services, law firms, real estate and hospitality).

It’s worth noting that in Australia, the public sector collectively employs more people than any single private sector business. 

Why should you work in the private sector?

  • Private companies are likely to invest in new technologies and industry innovations.
  • There's greater access to training programs.
  • Salary increases happen quicker.
  • Private companies generally offer workplace flexibility.

woman video conferencing

If you’re looking to establish a career in a more agile and dynamic workplace, smaller private enterprises are more likely to invest in new technologies and industry innovations than agencies within the public sector.

The private sector’s overall capacity to evolve and adapt at a quicker rate also means its employees usually have greater access to training programs that will help them develop new skills and build on their existing offerings that may directly benefit the company they work for.

When you get to the topic of remuneration, you're also likely to see more money in the private sector and have the capacity to receive increases in salary quicker and more frequently than in the public sphere.

But this earning capacity can come with some sacrifices – because the private sector operates outside of an overarching, regulatory government agency, contact hours that exceed the general 35-40 hour working week commonly seen in the public sector are not necessarily subject to overtime accrual or paid back in flexible leave.

However, almost contrary to this, despite the long held belief that the public sector is the poster child for overall workplace flexibility, the private sector has come into its own and some companies are arguably doing that better than many of those in the public space. 

Why should you work in the public sector?

  • It's a sector that has strong job growth.
  • Work-life balance is a priority for employees.
  • Job security and staff retention.
  • You make a difference in the community. 

work life balance concept

According to the Australian Industry and Skills Committee, it's expected that employment in the public administration sector is set to grow in the next five years. From 604,900 in 2021 to 659,300 by 2025. 

However, in terms of earning potential and salary expectations, those operating in the public sector will generally see slower and more structured salary increases than those workers employed in the private arena.

While competitive, public sector salaries are typically unable to compete when it comes to bonuses or the potential long-term reward of employee share schemes.

Nevertheless, if achieving the all-important work-life balance is important to you, the public sector is the place to be; employees in the private sector are more likely to operate under expectations of longer hours (without overtime) so considering the age old adage “time is money”, those in the public sector will generally have employment awards and agreements that preserve shorter working hours and actually translate to a better return on hourly investment.

Additionally, the public sector is well regarded for its job security and staff retention. Unlike private companies, there is no risk of government agencies going out of business and leaving staff in the cold. Restructures and redundancies are also less likely to happen.

Beyond salary and security, public sector work is also ideally suited to those who are driven to make a difference in the community; if you're motivated by helping others, employment in the public sector may be a great pathway for you to explore and find ultimate personal and professional fulfilment.

Ultimately, there are advantages and disadvantages to working in both the private and public sector. 

In the end, a considerable part of the decision-making comes down to your own professional aspirations as well as the things you value most as an employee and person.

Whether the public or private space is right for you, or you’re still undecided, Upskilled offers various courses that can help you along the way. For more information or to discuss the best pathways to better support your goals, contact 1300 009 924 or email

Editor's note: This article was originally published in November 2020. Content has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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*By providing your information, you agree to our Privacy Policy and to receiving email and other forms of communication from Upskilled. You are able to opt-out at any time.