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Tips for Job Seekers Chapter 1: Understanding the Public and Social Sectors

The public and social sectors are critical pillars of society, dedicated to serving the public good and addressing social issues. The public sector encompasses government agencies and institutions at local, regional, and national levels and is responsible for creating and enforcing laws, delivering public services, and ensuring the welfare of citizens. The social sector, on the other hand, includes non-governmental organisations (NGOs), non-profits, social enterprises, and charitable organisations that focus on social justice, community development, and various humanitarian efforts.

Overview of the Public Sector

Federal Government 

  • Scope and Structure: The federal government is Australia’s national government, responsible for overarching national policies and regulations. It includes various departments (e.g., Department of Defence, Department of Education) and agencies (e.g., Centrelink, Australian Bureau of Statistics).

  • Roles and Responsibilities: National defence, foreign affairs, monetary policy, federal law enforcement, and regulation of interstate commerce. 

  • Employment Opportunities: Jobs range from administrative and managerial roles to specialised positions in areas like public policy, legal and technology.

State Government 

  • Scope and Structure: State governments operate within individual states, focusing on regional issues. Each state has its executive branch (governor), legislative branch (state legislature), and judicial branch (state courts). 

  • Roles and Responsibilities: Education, transportation, public safety, health and human services, and administration of state laws. 

  • Employment Opportunities: Positions in state governments include education administration, public health, law enforcement, infrastructure management, and social services.

Local Government 

  • Scope and Structure: Local governments include city regions, township and remote regional administrations. These bodies are closer to the public and handle community-specific issues.

  • Roles and Responsibilities: Zoning and land use, local law enforcement such as animal management, local public health initiatives, road maintenance and facilities management and community services.

  • Employment Opportunities: Opportunities abound in urban planning, public works, community outreach, local law enforcement, and public utilities management.

Overview of the Social Sector

Not-for-Profit Organisations 

  • Definition and Structure: Not-for-profits are organisations that use surplus revenues to achieve their goals rather than distributing them as profit or dividends. They include charities, foundations, and service organisations. 

  • Mission and Objectives: Focus on social, educational, cultural, or environmental objectives. 

  • Employment Opportunities: Roles include program management, fundraising, marketing and communications, volunteer coordination, and executive leadership and a vast array of direct service provision roles. 

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) 

  • Definition and Structure: NGOs are independent organisations that operate globally, nationally, or locally to address social or political issues. 
    Mission and Objectives: Advocacy, humanitarian aid, environmental protection, human rights, and development projects. 

  • Employment Opportunities: Careers often involve fieldwork, research, project management, policy advocacy, and international relations. 

Social Enterprises 

  • Definition and Structure: Social enterprises are businesses that aim to achieve social objectives through market-driven approaches. They blend profit motives with social missions. 

  • Mission and Objectives: Addressing social issues like poverty, education, and environmental sustainability through innovative business solutions. 

  • Employment Opportunities: Positions can range from traditional business roles in finance, marketing, and operations to specialised roles in impact measurement and social innovation.

Key Similarities and Differences Between the Public and Social Sectors


  • Public Service Orientation: Both sectors aim to serve the public and address societal needs. 

  • Employment Motivations: Many roles in both sectors attract individuals passionate about making a difference in society. 

  • Collaboration: There is often significant overlap and collaboration between the public and social sectors in policy implementation, community development, and service delivery. 


  • Purpose and Mission: Public Sector is primarily focused on governance, public service, and implementation of public policy. While the social sector is driven by specific missions aimed at social change and addressing societal issues. 

  • Funding Sources: Public Sector is funded through taxes, government budgets, and grants. The Social Sector is funded through donations, grants, fundraising events, and, for social enterprises, sales revenue. 

  • Accountability and Governance: The Public Sector is accountable to the public and governed by elected officials and public regulators. Social Sector is accountable to donors, members, funders, regulators  and boards of directors, often with less direct public oversight.

Understanding these foundational aspects of the public and social sectors is crucial for anyone considering a career in these fields. Recognising the unique structures, missions, and opportunities within each sector can help guide career choices and professional development paths. 

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