As part of their degrees, students in the University of Limerick have the opportunity to participate in a Cooperative Education programme, during which they work in an organisation for six months. Some 2,000 students are placed annually under this programme, with a network of over 1,600 employers; making it one of one of the largest cooperative education schemes in the European Union. Students have been coming to the Department of Public Expenditure, and previously to the Department of Finance, for over two decades. They are chosen from across faculties on the basis of interviews conducted by the University. Those selected must complete a before and after skills assessment, be visited in the workplace by their Cooperative Education supervisor, and write a post-placement report outlining their experiences and learning outcomes.
This year, the Department was delighted to welcome two students. They tell us about their experiences below…
When I was placed here in the Department, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As a student, this would be my first time entering the real working world, and although I was slightly apprehensive about starting a new job, I was looking forward to seeing the opportunities and challenges it would bring.
On my first day, I was told I would be working in the Public Service Numbers Unit. During my time there, I completed a paper which formed part of a policy review around the management of public service headcount and pay bill management. It would provide an international context for policy options under active consideration. It was time to put my research skills to the test, as much of the data was not readily available. My time in the Public Service Numbers Unit gave me an insight to the level of research and attention to detail that goes into a policy analysis, and will prove helpful to me for future pieces of work such as my Final Year Project or a thesis.
I was lucky that my time in the Department coincided with the annual Budget. This was definitely a highlight for me as I got to see first-hand all the work and preparation that goes into the biggest day of the year for both the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance. I was eager to get involved and do whatever I could to aid the budgetary process, so I volunteered to lend an extra hand. The extra hours and effort put in by everyone to ensure that everything was done were admirable, while the atmosphere was both hectic and exciting. The motivation and dedication of those in the Department was evident and I am glad to say I was a part of it.
When I first started placement, I was told that the main objective was to ensure I got the most out of my time here. Therefore, when I enquired about getting experience in another area, the Department was more than happy to oblige. During the last few weeks of my internship I had the chance to spend time in the Government Reform Unit. There, work was ongoing on the Statute Law Revision Bill, and I was lucky enough to attend both Houses of the Oireachtas during the different stages of the Bill. This was definitely one of the high points of my whole internship, and I must say that it was a totally different experience from when I visited on my school trip as a child! It felt somewhat surreal – having only ever watched on television – to be sitting in the Dáil chamber alongside Minister of State Eoghan Murphy. As a law student, having the chance to experience the legislative process in Ireland first-hand will no doubt prove invaluable.
As a student of politics and an Oireachtas Report enthusiast (kidding…sort of), I jumped at the opportunity to work in the Civil Service, even though as a mature student I could have chosen an exemption and gone on to my final year. My degree includes a significant amount of detail on the inner workings of the civil service and the government so to walk the ‘corridors of power’ was really quite a novelty, but also a terrific learning experience; it made all the debates and classroom analysis a reality, removed some of the mystery of government and left me with a more nuanced understanding of how the service operates.
My responsibilities in the HR Strategy Unit included ‘Meet and Greets’ with new colleagues, assisting with staff inductions, managing the organisational chart mailbox, communicating with PeoplePoint and Payroll Shared Services regarding staff position changes, and assisting my colleagues in the office in any way I could. During my time there, we redeveloped the Buddy Programme for new starters and initiated a new online survey for colleagues leaving the Department to make it easier for them to share their experiences.
The work that I have been part of is one piece of a large body of work that has taken place in the HR unit over the last number of years – the resourcing and recruitment of the National Shared Services Office and the Office of Government Procurement for example. The HR team have been super to work with; their professional and friendly nature really stand out and I look forward to hearing about their future achievements as their plans for 2017 sound very dynamic and will no doubt further contribute to creating an even more positive workplace environment.
As part of my college work, I must choose a topic for my final year project so I have been eager to attend conferences and seminars and soak up as many ideas as possible. My first such event was at the Institute of International and European Affairs, at which Tom Healy, Director of the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI), was presenting. I expected a fairly big hall, with lots of interested folks going along. Arriving late, I stumbled into a sitting room with seven professionals and academics having a peer review. I was like a deer in the headlights: expecting to ease myself in to the conference circuit by remaining anonymous, but instead being able to hear a pin drop as everyone watched me barge in. After a big goofy “Hello!”, I made a beeline for the refreshments, where I struggled to explain to former Minister Alan Dukes that I was just a UL student attending for the experience. He kindly offered me a cup of coffee and the dialogue resumed; it turned out to be an interesting discussion about the challenges posed by an aging population and the many unknowns ahead.
Recently I assisted the Reform Delivery Office with their customer service conference in Iveagh House and learned about the reforms being implemented throughout the public service; it was great to hear so many engaged and enthusiastic ideas. I also got to spend two days in the Minister’s Office and the Press Office learning how everything comes together, from press statements and ministerial representations, to preparing for weekly government meetings.
Thanks to the Department’s very active Social Club, I have also been able to develop my baking skills, taking part in the Charity Bake Off with my HR colleague, Emma Gibson. We didn’t win but we were chuffed with the photo opportunity with Minister Donohoe – luckily, our cake stand remained in one piece!