If you want to play a vital role in the community, Public Sector Jobs Week is your opportunity

If you're looking for work aimed at helping other people, the public sector could be the place for you - whether it is providing school dinners, shepherding children across the road, or assisting people with disabilities.

Such jobs are not without their frustrations - just take a look at the growing number of weblogs written by public-sector workers, such as the dinner lady who has to prepare nutritious meals on a tight budget, or the ambulance dispatcher who was working his first Christmas Day shift.

But the aim of this month's Public Sector Jobs Week is to celebrate such jobs, to raise the profile of lower- to middle-ranking positions, and to show how vital they are to the UK's social infrastructure.

Last year saw the first celebration of Public Sector Jobs Week, an initiative organised by the Society of Personnel Officers in Government Services (Socpo) in partnership with the Employers' Organisation. The idea was to draw attention to the range of careers available and to dispel the myth that "public sector" means working behind a desk.

"Public Sector Jobs Week is about the differences that local workers can make to people's lives, and our intention is to make it a regular institution," says Alan Warner, the director of people and property at Hertfordshire County Council and a former Socpo chair. "We assume that our old mums and dads will be looked after if needs be; we assume that if our child has difficulties with learning, someone will kick in and help. We're not talking about doctors; we're talking about people such as carers who make the system work."

In Hertfordshire, this means those who do lollipop work, or school meals. "We expect to see them every day," Warner says, "but we don't always think about who they are or where they come from." For this reason, the authority runs a Herts Heroes campaign which, Warner says, aims to install a sense of pride.

Recent heroes include Jim Lawrence, a support worker in his mid-fifties who works at a residential care service for people with physical disabilities. He started the job a few months ago. He says his role is to "encourage people to do what they can unaided, and assist when they need it".

Other heroes include Abena Ansu, a mobile cook manager with Hertfordshire's school-meals service, who comes to the rescue if primary-school kitchens are short-staffed owing to illness or vacancies.

Apart from residential care workers and catering staff, the public sector covers a wide range of roles. The recruitment site www.insidepublic.co.uk gives a flavour of what's on offer, including a nursing assistant in Doncaster on £9,000, or a library assistant in London on £16,000.

This year's Public Sector Jobs Week takes place next week (23-27 January), with a one-day human resources conference in London on 27 January. Just before Jobs Week, Warwick Business School celebrates another batch of public-sector workers - university graduates who have been attracted into the public sector by the National Graduate Development Programme.

This initiative is run by the Employers' Organisation, and the idea is to provide the skills, experience and training needed to produce a new generation of local authority managers.

The programme, which started in 2002, already has 94 graduates. It involves two years of full-time work in one of the 102 participating local authorities, plus seven modules from Warwick Business School (ending with the postgraduate diploma in local government management), as well as four residential courses.

Tomorrow, four students will be getting a special merit award. They include Mark Golledge, who did a BA in geography and development studies at Sussex and is now housing strategy officer at Chelmsford Borough Council. "I was always open to a public-sector job, and I always wanted a job that contributes to the community," says Golledge, 25. While doing his undergraduate degree, he worked at a day centre for homeless people, and he wrote his dissertation on the issue of homelessness in Brighton.

He then applied to the NGDP scheme, and he now works for Chelmsford Council. "What's really good is that local authorities support the scheme and offer plenty of job opportunities afterwards." His job mixes front-line work - for example, giving housing advice - with desk work. He is particularly interested in homelessness prevention partnerships, writing about them in his postgraduate dissertation.

So, whether it's lollipop work or managerial responsibility, the public sector has a range of opportunities for all. And if you have any problems with the working conditions, you can always set up a blog.

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