Blog: 10 weeks at the heart of DWP policy making

Big Ben

During the summer, a group of Faculty students spent 10 weeks on work placements at the Department of Work and Pensions. Business Management student Emma talks about her time working on disability employment support.

I wanted to do something over summer to help increase my skillset and employability. However having just spent my second year abroad, I was struggling to find anything close enough to home that it allowed me to see all the friends and family that I’d missed for 10 months. I was primarily focussed on looking in the private sector, until I saw the posting for a Policy Intern at the Department for Work and Pensions in Sheffield. Not only had I never considered looking into the public sector, but I didn’t really realise much policy making took place outside of London so I was immediately interested. The more I read about the role and civil service the more interested I became, fast forward a month or so and I was one of 9 interns that had been given a space. This incited a whole host of emotion; relief that I actually had a plan for summer, excitement to begin something new and then of course nerves, as I had very little experience in policy and government.

Within a few days these nerves had disappeared as I realised what a friendly environment I was in. On my third day (which coincided with England’s Semi Final match) I joined my team on their away day at the National Archives which gave me an interesting overview of key current issues facing the directorate. The day then ended with tube failure and a resulting sprint across tropical central London with 20 people I’d met two days prior, to get the train home so we’d be back in time for the match. While stressful, it really was a good bonding experience and something we’ve laughed about throughout my time here.

I was placed in Disability Employment support and I have been concentrating on how the disability benefit process can be improved to make it more efficient and make the claimant journey better. This involves looking at specific points within the current process and identifying potential areas for change, then planning small scale trials that test whether this change results in an improvement. To do this requires a lot of research and planning around practicalities and viability, contacting many areas like Legal and Operations, and then applying suggestions that arise to the proposed trial format. I was given my own trial to research, plan and create start to finish, which took up most of my time over the 10 weeks. This has been interesting for me as it is not something that I have much experience in, and has very much improved my project management skills. This has also significantly increased my communication skills, encouraging me to think more about who I’m talking to, what I actually want to know and how to adapt my communication to satisfy this.

I have been on multiple trips to London to visit Caxton House and see how things run there and to meet the rest of the team. I have also had visits to the DWP Assessment Centres to talk to people on the ground about their opinions on the idea for the trial I was planning. This helped to put the work I was doing into better context and understand how policy decisions affect the day to day running of the benefits system which I found very interesting. We also got the opportunity to have a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament, and as it was during parliamentary recess we got full reign of the House of Lords and House of Commons!

Something I had not anticipated was the sheer size of the department and how expansive the roles within it are. Also, the fact that so many people I’ve met have had hugely diverse careers within the civil service across different divisions and departments. This is something that I have now realised will be important for me when looking at future careers as I very much like the idea of experiencing different paths and being able to try new things. This is probably a factor I would not even have considered this before this experience.

I have never worked in a team that is so genuinely nice and supportive; it really feels like everyone wants to help you to gain as much as possible in the short time you’re here. Throughout my 10 weeks here I have had numerous 1 to 1’s, meetings with other departments, the permanent secretary, and even with ministers all with the intention to help me gain as much insight as possible. Although technically a policy intern, I had expressed an interest in HR and was able to talk with HR colleagues about entry routes and their experience which I found very helpful.

Coming from a place with very little expectation or knowledge around this internship, I am now confident that I will look into public sector roles upon graduation due to the amazing working environment and interesting work I have undertaken. While the past 10 weeks here have flown, I really feel like I am leaving this role with a different outlook on my future career and significantly developed skills that I may not have gained elsewhere (including how to most safely sprint around London). As excited as I am to return to the student life of lie ins and fewer commitments, it is safe to say that in many ways I will miss coming to work each day as I really have genuinely enjoyed it.