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Luton BC: How we became an employer of choice

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To fulfil our ambitions for the people of Luton we must excite, recruit and retain the best talent in an increasingly competitive labour market. To do this we introduced our ‘people plan’ in 2016 and are now reaping the benefits.

  • Project: People plan
  • Objectives: To excite, recruit and retain the best talent in an increasingly competitive labour market
  • Timescale: 2016-20
  • Cost to authority: Embedded as business as usual
  • Number of staff working on project: 15-20
  • Officer contact details: Angela Claridge

With the third youngest population in the UK, you could be excused for thinking that future staffing for Luton BC should not be an issue. But local government is not always seen as a natural employer.

In Luton we have positioned our people plan alongside the Luton Investment Framework as the second of our key strategic documents. The investment framework is our 20-year plan to transform the town.

Two years in and we have seen massive investment into the town and major regeneration underway across multiple sites. Luton also saw the fastest increase in average wages and highest number of new start-up businesses in the UK last year, alongside improved school results and increased life expectancy.

Projects include £150m improvements to the airport and £220m for the Direct Air Rail Transit (Dart) – a fast link joining the airport and station, giving a 30 minute journey from central London to the terminal. Thousands of new jobs are being created across the town and we’re investing heavily in an innovative skills programme to ensure local people benefit from these new opportunities.

This is a hugely exciting and ambitious agenda which requires a talented, passionate and highly motivated council workforce. Luton BC will never be able to compete on salary terms, which is why our people plan is fundamental to our success.

The plan guides how we attract, recruit, retain and develop the staff we need to achieve our vision by focusing on building flexible and attractive contracts, supported by modern working practices and benefits which make us an employer of choice.

Our career pathways initiative shows the ‘grow our own’ approach, being a structured programme of guidance and support to help employees develop skills and take on challenges. The ‘pathways’ support our recruitment processes, so from the outset potential staff can see not just a job but a full and exciting career of professional and managerial opportunities.

Our approach to flexible working includes special term-time contracts, temporary reduced hours and unpaid leave. We also recently launched a scheme to allow staff to purchase more annual leave, booked in advance with the cost spread over the year.

We are also introducing a new flexible retirement policy for staff aged over 55 years where they can access their pensions early whilst continuing to work and build up additional pension. The scheme allows us to retain skills and experience in the organisation which can be passed onto other staff before full retirement.

We’ve shifted our recruitment process so it focuses more on potential, and less on experience. You need a mix in any team, but too often recruitment processes are based on experience with little attention to what excites and motivates the candidate. We have tended to be risk averse and as a result filtered out new blood before they are interviewed.

Instructive to this have been our national graduates who don’t have lots of experience, but bring drive, ambition, ability and real appetite to learn and make a difference.

Our graduate programme is recognised as one of the UK’s strongest. We’ve taken on new graduates in each of the last three years, working on a series of placements across the business. On completion of the programme our graduates have secured permanent senior roles within the organisation.

As a learning organisation, we have also grasped the apprenticeship levy, significantly boosting our number of entry level apprentices to over 30 last year. Additionally, we have mid and senior career apprentices.

In Luton we are united by a common goal. Whichever department you work in and whatever level you work at, as a council employee you belong to Team Luton and we value your input.

For instance, we recently launched a savings idea scheme where staff are encouraged to submit ideas to help us meet savings targets. We offer a direct cash reward if the idea is implemented and savings are achieved: 10% of total savings up to £1,000.

We are currently redeveloping our performance management to ensure the process is more individual and useful for all staff. This means moving away from an annual appraisal meeting to a more continuous performance improvement method, with our managers coaching in regular discussions.

To further set us apart from the competition, we have refreshed and re-launched the impressive array of benefits on offer to all council staff. These range from special discounts with high street stores, fitness centres and travel companies to car and bike loans and free use of a pool of electric cars for business trips.

Our employee wellness programme includes fitness and exercise classes, regular NHS health checks and a free employee assistance programme including a confidential counselling service. We also promote support to assist staff with their emotional and physical wellbeing.

We recently launched Your Wellness Time. This initiative allows staff to do health and wellbeing fitness activities or workshops during paid work time. Activities vary from massage to stress management.

Exceptional performance in the council is showcased in the annual Luton Excellence Awards, where teams and individuals are nominated by their peers across 12 categories. The ceremony is entirely sponsored by the council’s business partners.

Awards such as ‘Rising Star of the Year’ and ‘Becoming the Best’ reflect the organisation’s aspirational nature, and our employee of the year even receives an invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party.

Local government has much to offer in terms of rewarding careers that can change people’s lives.

In Luton we have high expectations for our town. Critical to our success is not being scared of constructively disrupting the model and making sure that as a sector we offer a career that feeds aspiration, opportunity and prosperity.

Trevor Holden, chief executive and Angela Claridge, service director for HR and monitoring office, Luton BC

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