The National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP)

Graduates, apply here

Word reaches us from the ever excellent Ruth Keeling at the LGC that the National Graduate Development Programme is to be dramatically scaled back.

As someone who once went through the programme I thought I’d mark this occasion with a few thoughts about the NGDP’s past and how it might have a future.

The NGDP was established, as I understand it, to provide a route into local government that was attractive to the best graduates. It would give the participants a broad experience of local government and an academic qualification that was both attractive to employers and designed to set them up well for a long career. It was meant to be a competitor to the gold-star quality Civil Service Fast Stream and in that spirit the bolder members of the NGDP team would often remark that they wanted to see a graduate of the scheme as a Local Government Chief Executive within ten years.

Graduates would spend two years working for a single local authority, using doing four six month placements in different teams, whilst also completing a Post Graduate Diploma in Local Government Management at the prestigious Warwick Business School.

So what went right?

  • The scheme slowly but surely attracted some extremely high quality graduates, many of whom might otherwise have passed local government by. Graduates of the scheme are still littered through local government and the rest of the public sector and doing good work.
  • The Post Graduate Diploma was excellent, led by some of the highest quality lecturers and special guests from local government and the private sector.
  • Many councils started to really value the ability of the graduates to work in complex projects with relatively little lead in which in turn tended to give the graduates a good experience. This was not always the case where some authorities sent their graduates off to placements where they did filing but generally most of the councils quickly ‘got it’
  • The accommodation at Warwick Business School was also excellent!

But what went wrong?

  • It was expensive (although not really). Local authorities paid for the graduate and towards the end increasingly for the scheme as well.  This might have seemed like a lot but even with the cost of salary and the scheme each graduate probably only cost the organisation as much as an average team leader. Expensive? A little? Outrageous? Not really
  • However, unlike in the civil service, many of the graduates left their organisation soon after leaving the scheme. After all, up and coming bright graduates probably don’t want to spend too long in one organisation. Local Government was still benefitting but the individual council might not have.
  • The scheme developed managers and people with generic skills. In the civil service this works but in local government there is a need for front line skills and the graduate scheme could never provide social workers, planners, lawyers or any number of other frontline staff that are so important for local government.
  • The scheme was meant to provide networking, specific local government (non academic) training and other residential activities for the graduates. I’m sure these varied but in my experience these were an absolute bust.
  • The Government stopped providing funding for the scheme, thus passing the costs onto local governments who were already looking at cutting costs.

Despite the flaws the scheme was great and, for this blogger, provided an opportunity to get a really good sling shot into my local government career. Without it, I might not have joined and without the qualification and experience I might not have achieved what I have so far.

So what next?

If the scheme is to continue to be a success four things could happen:

  • Local government need to commit to the graduate scheme collectively. If all councils were ‘in’ then even if there was some subsequent churn, you would be able to guarantee that the upfront investment would lead to returns.
  • A solution needs to be found that will provide some educational rigour to those who join the scheme. It doesn’t need to be a formal academic qualification but there needs to be something that develops the potential applicants and also attracts them to join.
  • There needs to be some better advertising of the scheme and a better job done of attracting graduates into the NGDP and local government in general.
  • The graduate scheme needs to link up better with other schemes designed to bring ‘professions’ into local government.

This post should not be taken 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 another.

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15 Comments on “The National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP)”

  1. LG Grad Says:

    As a gard who went through the NGDP and then promptly moved Councils (sorry host Council). I think it is your last point that will really help the scheme in the future. I’m very aware that I’m a generic policy officer because of the scheme but if you could link up with other schemes that get people into local government, you can link up to schemes that try and get people into the front line. I don’t know of many of these but surely they could do with support from such a bigger scheme. This may be me being naive but hay…

  2. localgov Says:

    In the past I’ve given graduates a hard time, but this scheme has consistently impressed me with the types of individuals it has churned out. Knowing the blogger as I do they may be exceptional even amongst graduates, but the average ability levels for every member of that scheme I have met has been fantastic, and I am yet to meet one that I wouldn’t employ.

    Local government needs to continue to attract the best of new talent, and I would hate to see a watered down scheme providing a greater number of less skilled individuals. A few shining stars can shine far brighter and do far more than lots of lightbulbs (tenuous metaphor not withstanding), and we need to accept some ‘greater good’ thinking when it comes to paying for these individuals to join our organisations. Whilst our own council may not see long term direct benefit from a particular individual, another council will; and what goes around comes around.

  3. 8eyondbelief Says:

    Six months ago I came to the end of a local scheme in Hull that was to all intents and purposes a copy of the NGDP.

    It was 2 years long and had 4 placements but instead of the PGDip we studied for an MSc in Public Administration from INLOGOV at the University of Birmingham.

    In some respects it was excellent – I got a much greater understanding of the council as a whole than I would have otherwise and made connections with such a wide range of practitioners. I did enjoy the time spent in Birmingham (and really miss it)

    In other respects it was less successful. Some of our placements were hit and miss. But in particular, from my point of view, was a sense of lack in terms of a strategy for what you’d do with graduates at the end of the scheme.

    The approach was to say apply for internal jobs rather than any deliberate recognition that we might be coming to the end of the programme. I know we were very lucky and given special treatment already so making extra allowances would be wrong but we were days away from being unemployed at the end of our contracts before we were fortuitously redeployed into our current roles.

    Maybe lessons will be learnt if it’s brought back in future but the scheme isn’t running anymore because it’s one of the first things sacrificed on the altar of corporate savings.

  4. littleone Says:

    As a former ngdp-er and now no longer working in local government I agree that there needs to be stronger progression routes post-scheme for graduates as per the civil service. I was royally screwed over (as the esteemed bloggers know) by a focus of our HR on using a process that didn’t take into account my skills nor the investment made by the local authority in me (despite senior managers arguing my corner). I think this is/was a wider issue within local government where authorities are often happy to invest significant sums of money in training individuals without a clear sense of what they want to do with those individuals once they’ve been trained. If the right opportunities aren’t there, the individuals will take that significant investment to another organisation who benefits for free…as is the case of my third-sector employer who loves to take people who have completed graduate schemes as it gets the aptitude without the expense. It seems like they recognised my achievements more than the HR department of the local authority who paid for them.

  5. DG Says:

    Hi all,

    I came in to local government through the NGDP too, and am disappointed but not suprised by the news about the ending of the WBS element. While such a scaling back is to be expected in the current climate we are all working in, I think this does really undermine the scheme’s ability to compete with the other public sector graduate schemes and those in the private sector.

    For me, the Warwick modules were an integral part of the scheme, both because of the high quality of the lecturers and external contributors and, importantly, because of the opportunity it gave to share ideas and debate issues with other graduates from across the country. The latter of these benefits can, I hope, be replicated by the LGG, but the loss of a qualification from a prestigious business school will harm the scheme’s ability to attract top graduates I fear. That said, we do have to recognise that the scheme was developed in a different era in terms of public funding so change is perhaps unavoidable.

    In terms of the scheme’s wider legacy, I think it has been a force for good in local government and it would be a shame to see it perish. I would echo the original poster description’s view of it being a ‘slingshot’ and that’s very much how I’ve sought to use it in my career. At times, however, I think expectations were raised that simply being on the scheme would assure you a rapid rise in local government, when (as with any other graduate scheme) it requires a great degree of hard work to make the most of the opportunities it provides. On the problem of ‘churn’, I’d agree that for it to work effectively, local authorities have to accept that they will lose good graduates that they’ve invested time and money in as people will inevitably move on (as I did a year after finishing the scheme at my host authority). However, they will hopefully gain other ex-NGDPers (as my host authority did) and what is more important is that the sector as a whole is able to retain the people it’s made this investment in, or at least attract them back if they want to spend some time in other sectors to benefit their development.

  6. Sean B Says:

    I went through the scheme (cohort 10) too and think the truly tragic thing is to hear that people wil no longer be able to eat the marmite potatoes in the Arden House pig-outs. Stuff the Diploma, it’s all about the spuds.

  7. […] across local government bodies into various senior local government management positions, has now been closed. The administrative costs of the scheme were covered more or less by the Improvement and […]

  8. […] I’m not one to plug ‘corporate’ blogs but in the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed a couple of posts from the blog of a company called Impower. In particular this one discussing the future of the NGDP was very well pitched and on an issue very close to our heart. […]

  9. […] week we joined the discussion of the recently downsized National Graduate Development Programme and suggested that this was going to be the start of a big debate. Since then, Impower and […]

  10. […] officers I’ve ever met have been through various degree programmes themselves, from the under-pressure NGDP scheme to various local schemes. Their time studying exposed them to new ideas and concepts, and […]

  11. […] by the way) when I noticed that a surprising number of them were recent entrants to the National Graduate Development Programme […]

  12. […] debate about the future direction of young people in local government, looking in detail 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 […]

  13. […] NGDP scheme was always an area close to our hearts, and over the past few years we’ve covered it […]

  14. Patrice Says:

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