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Working for the council

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Dreary, dull and lacking in glamour just some of the stereotypical images conjured up by the idea of working for a local council. Kathy Oxtoby talks to senior officers about how they are finding ways to tackle these misconceptions and coming up with innovative schemes to attract potential employees

‘Middle-aged, cardigan-wearing tea drinkers’ is how one graduate described council workers. But this view is totally out of step with the reality of local government.
We employ around 60,000 people in arguably more types of occupation than most employers in the country, so we can offer lots of different job opportunities. And our staff are more humorous and creative than many would expect those working in a local authority to be.
To create a positive experience for applicants, they can look at our web sites, download details and apply online. We have also simplified the whole application process and cut down on the bureaucracy.
There are various graduate schemes. It’s important to attract innovative and enthusiastic young people so the council can reflect the youth profile of Birmingham, where 44% of people are under 30.
We use different recruitment strategies for different situations because you have to be adaptable and flexible to recruit the right people. Once employed, we allow people to have the training and support to change roles while still working for the council.

Alan Rudge (Con) Cabinet member for equalities and human resources, Birmingham City Council


Location is an issue for us. Thanet is not particularly well known, but when you say Margate, Ramsgate or Broadstairs are part of the region people know where we are.

We try to sell the benefits of the area the good schools and high-quality housing that’s much cheaper than the rest of the south-east, and the fantastic natural environment with its 26 miles of beaches.

Senior roles in planning, environmental health, building control, finance and regeneration can be difficult to fill. So two years ago, when a number of senior jobs came up, we ran a promotional campaign called Catching the Wave, which was about capitalising on what the area has to offer. We got our strongest interest ever which showed us that it’s worth doing something special to recruit people.

We’re starting to advertise for jobs which can be ‘shared’ with neighbouring councils. It means we can split costs and helps us fill posts that are hard to recruit for.
To spark an interest in the council from an early age, some of our planning staff visit the local primary schools to talk about the sorts of jobs available in local government; their interest in what we do has been amazing.

Richard Samuel Chief executive, Thanet DC


We’re trying to challenge people’s ideas about Liverpool because there are still some negative views that the council is militant and the area suffers from a high crime rate.

We’ve tried to build on positive images of Liverpool to reflect the fact that next year it will be the European Capital of Culture and that it’s undergoing some significant improvements. We want people to know Liverpool is thriving and that we’re a fast-moving organisation, so we’re portraying these images in our advertising.

There are not enough young people and people from black and minority ethnic (BME) groups. To encourage them to apply we have a diversity and social inclusion team which runs an annual scheme to give paid work experience in a range of jobs.

We want more women to become senior managers so we’re looking into job shadowing schemes, flexible working and home working to help ensure women, and indeed all under-represented groups, have the opportunity to step up to senior level.

The days of sitting behind a desk nine-to-five are long gone. We’re out there working with the communities to support Liverpool’s citizens, and that’s anything but boring.

Karen McMurdo HR client manager, Liverpool City Council

Most people have heard of Bradford from a negative perspective based on the way it has been portrayed in the national press, particularly around the time of the 2001 riots: ‘A city gripped by fear, sleepwalking into segregation.’

Yet I look out of my office window and people from different cultures are walking alongside each other. We have a young, fast-growing and diverse population, which is a huge asset in the context of an increasingly global economy.

As long as we get people to come here the place sells itself just this year Bradford was voted Britain’s greenest city and the council was one of The Sunday Times’ top 20 big companies for 2006.
The council has undergone a major restructuring programme. To build a new management team we focused our recruitment advertising on the rebirth of the city.

We also tell potential candidates that they have the chance to make a difference to people’s lives. That’s the difference between a bureaucracy and an organisation in touch with the needs and aspirations of the district. And it’s much more exciting than being a pen-pusher.

Tony Reeves Chief executive, Bradford City MDC


Local government has an image problem when it comes to attracting young people. There’s an idea that we’re all ‘Mr Beans’ working in the town hall. Clearly we have to change that.
We support the national graduate development programme as well as sponsoring some young people through university and providing them with work experience.
We have a problem recruiting from the BME community, so we’ve been working with the Compact for Race Equality in South Tyneside to circulate the council’s fortnightly jobs bulletin to relevant organisations, and encourage people to sign up to our clerical register for temporary work.
Perhaps in the past we’ve not been particularly good at demonstrating the excellent terms, conditions and benefits we can offer staff. We’re now making much more of the benefits available like flexible working, home working and work/life balance which people might not get in the private sector.
Not everyone is motivated by having the biggest pay packet or a glamorous job. Some have a social conscience and want to make a difference to people’s lives.

Peter Fanning Head of organisational development and people, South Tyneside MBC


Our challenge is to keep competitive with the rest of the London councils, to make sure people understand the opportunities on offer and make them aware that we’re one of the fastest-improving councils in the country.

We’ve gone from being a weak council to a good one in four years, and we’re also one of five Olympic boroughs, which adds a certain glamour to our position.
We need to reinforce these messages to those who may not have previously worked in local government, like graduates. It’s important to talk to them about the fact they could be working at the cutting edge of modern society, doing anything from social work to teaching to policy support or planning.

We talk to all potential candidates about opportunities at the council. It takes time and effort but it’s worth it. The council makes sure the information it puts out is continually updated and reflects its progress and opportunities.

At the top level there are probably not as many talented people as local government needs. It’s a competitive market so we need to ensure what we offer is unique.

Roger Taylor Chief executive, Waltham Forest LBC

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