29 August 2023

The Public Service is made up of diverse, dedicated people working in communities right across the country. 

Public servants are motivated by something bigger than themselves, a higher purpose – it’s about coming to work every day wanting to make a difference for New Zealand and the communities we serve.

If that sounds like you, then read on for information about what public servants do, where they work, and what career opportunities are available.

Because when you join the Public Service, you’ll work together with local communities and colleagues to tackle complex issues that make a real difference for New Zealand and New Zealanders.

Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission. Photo by Neil Price Photo.

Before we start, what exactly is the Public Service?

Good question.

The core Public Service, Te Ratonga Tūmatanui, is made up of departments, departmental agencies and interdepartmental executive boards.

Examples of departments include all the major ministries like the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Development, and Ministry for the Environment.

It also includes Crown Agents – organisations such as ACC, the Earthquake Commission, and Fire and Emergency New Zealand.

It’s worth checking out our list of central government organisations.

So what is the main role of the Public Service?

At its heart, public service is about serving New Zealand and acting with a spirit of service to the community.

That means delivering a wide range of information, guidance, services, products and support to New Zealanders right across the country.

The official purpose of the Public Service is to support constitutional and democratic government, enable both the current and future governments to develop and implement their policies, deliver high-quality and efficient services, support the Government to pursue long-term public interest, and facilitate active citizenship.

It also has an important role supporting the Crown in its relationships with Māori under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

New Zealand Customs Service.

What kinds of jobs do public servants do?

Pretty much everything – the range of roles is vast.

Public servants help people every day with things like sorting out housing, finding a job, or getting a driver's licence or passport.

They work across more than a dozen different sectors, from border and business, to health, housing, justice and national security.

And within those sectors there are a wide range of specific jobs. For example, customs officers, teachers, detectives, archivists, rangers, nurses, scientists, policy advisors, administrators, researchers, IT advisors, managers, social workers, air traffic controllers – you name it!

Do I have to work in Wellington?

Not at all!

Public servants serve communities all around the country. In fact, only about 45% of public servants are based in the Wellington region, the rest are based across New Zealand.

There are also a number of public servants working around the world, often in roles related to diplomacy, trade and security. What’s more, there’s a team carrying out New Zealand's activities in Antarctica, supporting world leading science and environmental protection.

Beyond that, New Zealand also has a space agency, so you never know…

Antarctica New Zealand. Photograph by Al Chapman, Antarctica New Zealand.

Why do people join the Public Service?

There are a few main reasons. Our inaugural Te Taunaki Public Service Census 2021 shows making a contribution to society (57%) is the most common reason that people joined the Public Service, with other top reasons being interesting work (55%), alignment with skills (51%), and job security (45%).

So if you want to make a difference while doing interesting, varied work, the Public Service might well be for you.

And why do they remain in the Public Service?

Most people work in the Public Service because they genuinely care about what they do.

Te Taunaki Public Service Census 2021 shows public servants are strongly motivated by a spirit of service and are in the job to make a difference for the communities they serve.

The top three reasons for staying in the Public Service were due to the interesting work (86%), the work contributing positively to society (84%), and the work aligning with the public servant’s skills (80%).

What kinds of career opportunities exist?

No matter where you are at within your career we welcome people who want to transition into public service who are experienced in their field. Like any organisation, Public Service agencies need experts and people with deep content knowledge or strong leadership acumen.

If you are at the start of your career there are a number of internships available, with a range of different areas of focus, intake timeframes and application processes.

Then there are our graduate programmes. If you have a tertiary qualification, we offer a variety of programmes to help kick-start your career. There are links to internships and graduate programmes across finance, IT, legal, policy, procurement on our Joining the Public Service page.

If you're looking to lead others, the Leadership Development Centre offers a New People Leader Development programme, which helps identify the skills, behaviours, and mindset needed to succeed in a new leadership role.

The Māori Emerging Leaders Programme is for rangatahi Māori across the Public Service who are wanting to grow and develop their capacity and capabilities to lead and serve. 

What about diversity and inclusion?

New Zealand is a diverse country, and the Public Service is becoming more diverse too.

Te Taunaki Public Service Census 2021 found that 8 in 10 public servants (82%) feel they can be themselves at work and most people (78%) felt that their organisation supports and promotes an inclusive workplace. Almost everyone (96%) reported feeling comfortable working with people from backgrounds other than their own.

Employee-led Networks in the New Zealand public sector help employees to connect, share ideas and support each other in reaching their potential. There are nearly 60 different groups, including the Government Women's Network, Cross Agency Rainbow Network, Māori Public Sector Network, Pan-Asian Public Sector Network, and many more.

So depending on what you're looking for, there will likely be a network for you. Check them all out on the Employee-led Networks website.

Ok, where can I find available jobs?

Easy, just go to jobs.govt.nz.

There you'll find a handy tool that makes it simple to search for jobs using keywords, locations and categories. Just choose your parameters and you will see a list of jobs that match your preferences.

Good luck!

Working in the Public Service


People sign up to the Public Service because they want to make a difference. Working in the Public Service will give you opportunities, challenges, and the ability to develop an exciting career. 

Find out more