Can there be Council Officer Prodigies?

When I grow up, I want to work for the CouncilDespite the protestations of the rest of my household, occasionally I am able to catch the odd frame or two of snooker. The recent World Championship was as interestingas the cricket world cup – brilliant for me, but also the cause of much gnashing of teeth and fights over the remote control. For those of you who didn’t follow it, newcomer Judd Trump narrowly lost in the final to multiple champion John Higgins, meaning there is a new kid on the block.

Pundits and commentators have been gushing with praise over Trump, expressing their belief that he might be one of the most naturally gifted players since Ronnie O’Sullivan turned up, and that players like them are freaks of nature with a natural ability that means they would always have turned up at the final table of tournaments, even if they had only discovered the game a few months ago.

An alternative theory however has also emerged, which describes how these snooker players and other similar world class players only got that way down to years and decades of hard work. I won’t go into the theory myself (you can read it for yourself at the BBC website) but it got me thinking about the way we introduce newcomers to the world of local government, and inspire them to be the best that they can be.

Admittedly the money involved in elite sport makes the work worthwhile, but the theory is that should a child find a sport interesting then they should be nurtured and encouraged to practice at every available opportunity, meaning they will pick up the muscle memory and spatial awareness to enable them to express themselves to a good level consistently. They will then be able to refine the bits they aren’t so good at and rise above the competition.

We don’t seem to see this with local government officers. Children in nursery schools don’t have a Council Corner, where they pretend to hold meetings and take turns being the chair, or Officer Hour where they take turns to read stories about issuing fixed pnealty notices. If they are naughty they get their name taken on the Clipboard of Shame, and if they are good the get a Beacon Sticker.

There are a small number of exceptional schemes to assist graduate get involved in local government, but usually these are never able to be accessed until university level, before then there is nothing to be done. Career advisors don’t tell children that they can be a local government officer generally, or even that it is a great thing to be. It seems that if you want to be a big shot you go into politics or business, otherwise it’s volunteering or childcare for you.

I think we should aim to make local government an aspirational career choice. Public service is attainable for most people, and the sheer range of issues dealt with by the public sector means that whatever your skills or interests, odds are that there is a role somewhere for you. If you like working with numbers then go into performance management. If you like working with people, why not try social services? If running things is more your forte, then there is a much talked about rank of middle management waiting to make use of your services.

There are a whole range of skills that those of us with children can impart to the younger generation that will help them on their local government service: leadership, teamwork, problem solving, communication, ambition, planning; all these things are core skills that will help them go far. As well as spending hours kicking a ball to each other, why not spend a little time working on inspiring an interest in getting different communities playing sport together? Next time homework is being issued, break out a little project planning know-how and show them how that would help.

I’d love to see Council worker become something that youngsters want to be when they grow up, that they want to do something which will make the lives of others better and that they realise that there are a whole world of skills that will help them get there. To see a young officer climbing the ladder to get to where they think they can do the most good and recognise that they have been honing their negotiation skills and churning our innovative ideas for making the place they live in better since they knew how to walk would be amazing.

Perhaps it might also inspire us who have already been involved for some time to be a little more proud of the work we do, knowing that we were inspiring a new generation and that people actually wanted to work for the Council.

I’m proud of my job, and I want my children to proud to say that their mum or dad works for the Council.

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9 Comments on “Can there be Council Officer Prodigies?”

  1. Ian Chisnall Says:

    I wonder if the challenge is to see public service as a career sector, but to diminish the boundaries between the Council, the Police force (clearly uniformed services have their own seperate identity), the NHS, the Voluntary Sector. So much has been done in recent years to bring together these various public service agencies to reduce silo thinking. I am not suggesting that we shouldn’t promote working for the Council as part of this, but to see a broader canvas and promote transfer between organisations on a more frequent basis?

  2. Andrew Says:

    One problem is the “bring your child to work” type days. All mine would see is Dad tapping away at a computer, or looking at files with confidential information in which they would not be allowed to read. Inspiring not! But not all jobs may be like mine; for example it strikes me that planners have public data and sites they can visit, and other local authority jobs may have more ‘activities’ and les confidential stuff. And I do try to enthuse about my achievements at home. Too early with mine to see if this will do any good – or if it will combat the of media barrage showing public sector workers as overpaid tea drinking jobsworths.

  3. Ed Hammond Says:

    The problem, I think, is specialism vs generalism. As a graduate you can quite easily take a punt at entry into a wide range of local authority specialisms but such is the technical nature and complexity of the work that once you’ve got into one specialism it’s difficult to break out of it. You don’t see many people moving departments for this reason (and because often jobs require the completion of specific professional qualifications).

    Some of those barriers are being broken down, as people working in similar specialist areas work together (either virtually or through co-location). But still there is a very silo driven approach to recruitment, up to Head of Service level. At senior management level there is much more of an understanding that transferable skills exist – but even then problems can occur where a senior officer doesn’t have a detailed technical knowledge of one of the services for which he/she is responsible. This was allegedly one of the underlying causes of the most significant local government scandal of recent years (you know which one I mean).

    What I am probably inching towards is the idea that there is too much of a risk that staff get pigeonholed in small professional teams, stunting the development of some of the people with big potential.

    Do you think that this is an accurate assessment?

  4. Amy (local gov't newbie) Says:

    I’ve been in Local Government for a grand total of 7months now (having worked as an intern for another authority for a year as part of my degree a few years ago).

    I decided early(ish) on that I wanted to work in Local Government (1st year of uni age 19) and it is true that careers advisors don’t push it as a career choice. Despite explicitly telling a careers advisor that was what I wanted to do, she suggested: Social research organsations, the Voluntary sector, Central Gov’t even… Anything else but, and very little enthusiasm for local government.

    I think the problem for careers advisors in promoting it as a career is the breadth of jobs it provides, so it doesn’t fit into a nice box i.e ‘Maths students can go into large Accountancy firms’.

    I think there is a silo problem as mentioned above, however graduate schemes (one of which I happen to be part of) are absolutely brilliant in giving you the opportunity to sample loads of different areas of work and gain a breadth of experience. I’ve found my graduate experience brilliant so far and if you’re in a position to influence your councils participation in such schemes I would highly recommend you do it!

  5. Big K Says:

    I’m not sure it is the best time to be encouraging anyone to think about working in local government. It will be at least another decade before we have any jobs on offer.

    Still local govt is not unique in looking unappealing until it is actually time to get a job. Not many takers at careers day for management consultants, human resources, hedge fund managers, procurement specialists, regulatory quangos or facilities management.

    One way round this seems to be TV. The huge growth in forensic science students came of the back of CSI and Silent Witness type shows. The legal and medical professions get hours of free marketing every week, so maybev we need to come up with a good local government show that makes us look cool. Surely there is a sitcom waiting to be made? Any ideas?

  6. Ed Hammond Says:

    Local government is ripe for a sitcom, and I know several people who are in the process of writing semi-autobiographical local government novels as well.

    Mind you the thing about sitcoms is that they’re never about the setting they inhabit. God knows why I have thought of this as an example, but nobody would watch “The Brittas Empire” for a contextualised analysis of the challenge of running public leisure facilities. (I mean, when was that even last on TV? Fifteen years ago? Why did I happen to think of it?)

  7. […] as one of those ‘graduates are better than everyone else’ pieces. Local government needs many different types of people to join but as a graduate who benefitted from the NGDP I’d like to see it continue in one form or […]

  8. […] at the National Graduate Development Programme and asking if there could ever be such a thing as a council officer prodigy. Taking a step back we also had a look at the different personality types that end up working in […]

  9. […] taking a look at the graduates in question through two different pieces.  We think graduates are a good thing by the way, even if sometimes we rant about some of them!  We even tried to offer some advice to […]

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