In the wake of the first ngdp alumni conference, a former student explains how the large network of students past and present can support not only the graduate programme, but also the local government sector as a whole.
Starting the national graduate development programme (ngdp) in October 2009 coincided with fundamental change for local government. The change in central government and the abolition of the regional tier both provided a radically different context for our learning and development and my work at Newcastle City Council.
I completed some exciting placements to complement my study. Having first worked with elected members reviewing ward-based budgets, I then moved to a key regeneration programme involving various council services and external partners. These early placements prepared me for the next assignment on Newcastle’s Child Poverty Needs Assessment and Child Poverty Programme, before finishing the ngdp in corporate transformation.
Whilst these placements allowed me to develop my applied knowledge and skills, the learning and development brought our cohort together for six themed modules on local government. This training allowed us to learn from each other as well as the academic staff; building the relationships and networks which have certainly helped me in my career to date.
The ngdp experience made the transition into my first post-programme job very smooth. My current role with the central policy unit is the professional assistant to the leader of the opposition. Importantly, I have been able to call upon the support of current and former National Management Trainees (NMTs) for information, reports, policy papers and contacts on issues, ranging from council governance to neighbourhood planning.
The trainee programme aims to develop graduate talent to become local government managers of the future. What may be attractive for potential recruits is that a career in local government seems to increasingly involve more questions and fewer answers. All local authorities have different strengths and challenges, and NMTs are in a unique position to see opportunities to improve policy and services whilst also developing themselves. The Localism Act and ongoing financial pressures in the sector will mean new opportunities and challenges in future.
The ngdp is a start not an end to a process of development. We are well placed as a network of alumni and advocates of the ngdp to strengthen and add value to our work at our councils. Our first alumni conference, organised by the new Local Government Association team took place at the end of March. We discussed the potential to better facilitate our professional development and how best to extend a mentoring offer to new and current NMTs.
The growing emergence of localism and abolition of the regional tier is a major shift. The programme can now look to build relationships between the ngdp and central government, in order to seize new opportunities of the localism agenda and to facilitate a culture of mutual cooperation.
Danny Dickinson is a former graduate of the national graduate development programme and now professional assistant to Newcastle City Council’s opposition leader