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In November we kicked off our series on the first ever national graduate training programme for local government. S...
In November we kicked off our series on the first ever national graduate training programme for local government. Six months on Mark Smulian finds out how the trainees are getting on

No matter what the prospectus might have promised, for local government's first group of 49 graduate trainees, there is no substitute for actually working in a council to find out what it is really like, and how their careers might develop.

Six months on from when LGC first talked to six of the graduates on the scheme (LGC, 29 November 2002), they are all still there, they have all experienced at least two placements in their chosen council and they are all - at least most of the time - enjoying themselves.

Each graduate spends two years with their council, under the guidance of a mentor and studies for a post-graduate diploma specially created for the programme by the University of Warwick Business School.

The training scheme is run by the Employers' Organisation to create the senior managers, perhaps chief executives, of the future. There is still some way to go, but they are all committed to the journey.

Salford MBC - James Williams

A Cambridge anthropology graduate who wanted to help reduce poverty, James Williams chose Salford because of its record on social issues.

His first placement involved implementing an IT system for social services staff development.

His second, a complete contrast, was in the best value and performance team looking at comprehensive performance assessment issues in the chief executive's department.

'The good bit of this project is that I am at the centre and fully aware of how things fit together and of working with elected members,' he says.

'I've gone through the phase where you're hyped up, and now have a more realistic idea of the barriers officers face.'

Mr Williams says he still has 'a good impression of local government' and, if his enthusiasm ever does begin to wane, 'the graduate programme work at Warwick keeps you quite motivated and gives you staying power'.

The only problem has been a lack of understanding of what the graduate programme is for.

He says: 'There are moments when I think our line managers underestimate how capable graduates are.

'This is a new programme and the leaders are on the ball, but that does not always filter down. People think we are doing work experience and will go back to university.'

His next placement is in education, looking at the recruitment and retention of teachers.

'I will try to streamline a process which is disjointed.

It will be research oriented, which will be something new,' he says.

South Tyneside MBC - Gareth Barr

gareth Barr's first placement took him beyond South Tyneside, working with neighbouring councils on the Tyne and Wear air quality strategy, enabling him to spot the differences between councils early on.

'All local authorities are different but they have to work together on this as emissions do not just affect the area they come from,' he explains.

He found that while South Tyneside's policy team is there to ensure the council works as one, 'in other authorities the policy team seems to be more detached'.

Although he will still facilitate air quality meetings, law graduate Mr Barr is moving to the performance and innovation service.

He says: 'My new role will be working for the chief executive on CPA, trying to work out what we have to do to move from being a 'fair' council to 'good' and ultimately 'excellent'. I will look at each indicator and find where our strengths and weaknesses are.'

Curiously for someone on a leadership programme, Mr Barr will be helping to set up another one - South Tyneside's attempt to transform itself by completing 10 big tasks and 100 small tasks in 1,000 days.

As far as the work goes, he says, 'I'm still enjoying myself and I'm looking forward to the next few months.'

And the place? 'The coastline here is the best in Britain, and I come from Devon so that is quite a compliment,' he says.

Warrington MBC - Amy Walker

Amy Walker holds an MBA in human resource management, which she has been putting to use in Warrington's personnel department on her second placement, working on two separate projects.

These are seeking consistency across departments on recruitment and induction, and the re-tendering of the occupational health service for council staff.

She says: 'The contract is with an outside company and it can be provided that way or in-house, and we will be developing recommendations for when the contract ends.

'I have been visiting other councils to see how it is done and hope to get to something where absence can be managed more proactively.'

Her first placement saw her working on local strategic partnerships in the chief executive's department and she will move in June to work on the recruitment and retention of social workers.

Ms Walker says: 'I've really enjoyed it. One of the things that attracted me was the chance to keep up the academic side. It is possible when you are working on one project to lose sight of the big picture, and that pulls you back.'

The main difficulty has arisen from the programme's newness, she says.

'I go into councils and say 'I'm a national management trainee' and I get blank looks. I expect that will change when it becomes more established.'

Barnet LBC - Glyn Parry

Last time LGC spoke to Glyn Parry, he had just completed a stint at the sharp end of housing as a caretaker.

Now the history graduate is in education asset management 'working on a large project dealing with the data schools return to us on their condition and translating it into the format the Department for Education & Skills needs. It is quite technical', he says.

He is also working on the creation of one of the neighbourhood nurseries and family support centres that the government wants to see in the top 20% of deprived wards, of which Barnet has one.

'The first placement was in an estate office so that was quite front line and I worked as a caretaker for a few weeks. This placement is more strategic, but I'm still working with teachers and parents,' he says.

His next placement will be in human resources, and after that in the corporate office, with the final placement still open.

Mr Parry says: 'I'm still positive and really enjoying it. It looked like a sector where a lot seemed to be happening and I could make a difference to the community.

'I have enjoyed working with people who are committed and innovative. It has confirmed the reasons I applied.'

He has found the academic side useful, but says 'the work style is very different from my previous university course - it is much more interactive and less based on lectures'.

Oxfordshire CC - Lorna Allen

lorna Allen's reading material must be somewhat different from that of her English literature degree - she is dealing with what Oxfordshire calls 'high-level informal complaints' to its economy and environment directorate.

'These are complaints that do not come through the formal three-stage procedure, but which the directorate tries to resolve itself before they go forward,' she explains.

''High-level' means they are being investigated at director level. A lot of it is to do with using complaints as a positive to learn how we can improve.'

Her stint in the directorate also involves work on a coherent strategy for affordable housing, in which she is trying to pull together five district councils, and a number of housing associations and developers.

In her first placement she worked on a best value review of older people's independence.

'I learned there about performance management and about the role of councillors, and became aware that this is a political organisation and part of the challenge is to manage that side,' she says.

The course has measured up to expectations, but Ms Allen has learned that there is more to getting things done than there might appear to be.

'I am still really enjoying the job and I'm realising it is not quite as simple as just walking in and doing what is righ t,' she says.

Her next move is to local strategic partnerships and work with European and other funders.

Camden LBC - Akua Baffoe

Politics and law graduate Akua Baffoe was working on a tenants' choice programme for Camden and local housing associations last autumn, and was impressed with the council's dynamism.

She still is since her move to social services, where she is mapping all the children's and young people's services in the borough so the council can develop a strategy.

Although due to move at the end of May, she had become sufficiently engrossed that she has asked to stay longer so that she can take part in the imminent public consultation work.

Ms Baffoe, like some of the other graduates, has found problems arising from the programme being new.

'As we go along we find things on the scheme that could be better. For example, I have only just been assigned a mentor,' she says.

However, she is full of praise for the course at Warwick, having just completed the module on partnering between departments and across

institutions. The opportunity to continue to study was one of the factors that attracted her to the programme.

She says: 'It was really good and the people teaching it were very committed.'

Of Camden, she says: 'I have been very fortunate because I've ended up where I wanted to be.'

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