Youth, and Local Government, is wasted on the young – Part 1
At Welovelocalgovernment we have a mix of professions and backgrounds. Therefore, when one of us suggested writing a piece about the plight of young people in the local government workforce we decided to do it in two bits; part 1 about young people with a graduate background and part 2 about young people without a graduate background. This is Part 1.
I had a meeting with someone in HR the other day (unfortunately, meetings with HR nowadays tend to involve discussing the redundancy process) but before I left we had a brief chat about the age profile of local authorities.
There may be some exceptions but in my experience local authorities seem to be populated by those of us firmly rooted in middle age, if not slightly slipping into the ‘wise elder’ category. It makes me wonder how they all got here; surely these people were young once? If not, when did they join Local Government?
The central civil services certainly does not have this problem; the Fast Stream is almost famous in terms of a graduate scheme and brings through a steady stream of excellent university students, gives them five years protected tenure within the Civil Service and then lets them loose within the higher levels of the civil service. As I understand it the fast stream brings in at least 500 graduates per year who can then work their way through the management grades.
In Local Government we have a few equivalents. New accountants can join and take their accountancy qualifications and the same tends to apply to lawyers and social workers and other ‘professional’ jobs. The generalists are covered by a relatively new National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) which maybe brings in 120 graduates across the sector.
However, a recent post by ‘MattSkinner1986’ on the Guardian Local Government Network illustrated the problems that exist with this scheme; namely that local authorities don’t seem to value their talented young graduates in the same way as the Civil Service and aren’t even trying to protect them (apparently only 1 in 5 of this year’s intake have permanent employment).
It seems that even where local authorities have young people working for them these same young people are not necessarily seen as ‘crucial’ to the future of the local authority in the way the fast streamers are for the Civil Service.
So why is this? Local Government does seem to prefer experience over innovation; knowledge over skills and organisational history over new ideas. This leads to employers focusing on those they can ‘trust’ to know how the organisation works and ‘hit the ground running’ rather than take the risk on a younger unproven member of staff.
Equally, there are less ways into these organisations. Graduate schemes don’t always exist and where they don’t, the ‘entry level’ jobs are very difficult to access as a job that may be entry level for a graduate is also something a housing officer has been working ten years to access.
The flip side of this is that graduates tend not to be willing to start doing more menial work to work their way up to get a chance. There are plenty of private sector options out there that are more interesting and probably pay more whilst also allowing the ambitious to move on more quickly.
The second problem is illustrated by ‘MattSkinner1986’ above. He loves his job but says tellingly:
‘I really enjoy my role as a full-time officer in an inner London Council at the moment, I have lots of ideas about how to improve the sector and I enjoy the feeling of making a difference to local communities. I want to develop a career in the public sector but even for me the pull of the private sector is hard to ignore.’
If you are young and overcome the above barriers and get into Local Government and develop some skills why would you stay? The things that Local Government ‘sell’ as the most important reasons to join do not necessarily apply to younger people; pensions, flexible working hours, annual leave entitlements and job security (?!?) do not interest a generation that are willing, and indeed keen, to move jobs fairly regularly. The things that matter to the young are the chance to ‘make a difference’, the opportunity to innovate and probably the chance to make quick career progress (not something Local Government promotes).
Maybe this leads to younger people leaving local government to progress their career, have big ideas, try new things and feel empowered before they then return to local government when the lure of pensions etc start to matter more.
If I am right (a big ‘if’), and if these beneficial conditions of employment are about to be reduced (a lot of authorities are considering matching the private sector) then surely it is crucial that Local Authorities address the young person issue quickly.
Not offering contracts to 4/5ths of the people on their graduate scheme is not the way to start.