Author: Sharon Senior

Have Your Say on the National Recruitment Campaign for Local Government

A new campaign to drive recruitment in local government is coming to the North West. 

Under the 2024/25 Sector Support offer, the Local Government Association (LGA) is collaborating with Solace and local authorities to attract new talent and increase capacity in the sector. 

The campaign aims to enhance councils’ existing recruitment strategies by increasing individuals’ awareness of how they can support their communities – and benefit themselves – through a career in local government. From adult and children’s services to planning, environmental health to libraries, there are hundreds of opportunities to make a difference. 

Earlier this year, the LGA ran a pilot of this campaign in the North East, with the key aims of enhancing local recruitment activity and how local government is perceived as a brand. The pilot delivered promising results, including 105,626 clicks to the North East Jobs portal and a year-on-year increase in applications of 8.96% through the site. Beyond this, participants in the pilot reported an improved image of their local council generally, and as an employer.

A campaign shaped by the North West, for the North West 

Local authorities in the North West now have an exciting opportunity to tailor this campaign to their specific needs. To discuss how our members can shape this campaign in the region, North West Employers are delighted to be hosting a virtual workshop with the LGA. Taking place on 15 July, the session will be an opportunity for councils to share how the LGA’s campaign can bolster their current recruitment strategies and direct new talent towards joining the local government sector. 

This event is not one to be missed: register today and have your say on how this campaign can best support the North West. 

Talent in the North West – a round table discussion with GatenbySanderson and North West Employers

Blog by Sharon Senior, Executive Director at North West Employers, 14 November 2022

GatenbySanderson and North West Employers hosted a round table discussion with nine senior leaders in HR/OD from local government across the North West. Facilitated by Philip Emms (Senior Consultant – Local Government, GS), Phil Whitman (Client Solutions Partner, GS) and Sharon Senior (Executive Director, NWE), the theme for the conversation was the future of talent development and acquisition, with a view to looking at some of the trends that we are seeing in the sector in terms of challenges to attract and retain the best talent, and to develop some specific actions that enable us all to address the issues we’re facing.

As ‘Talent Rebels’, we set out our mission to understand the future of talent in local government, to rock the boat a little bit and really question what we are doing now/today to address the challenges that we all know exist – are we doing enough, are we heading towards ever more difficult pressures, how long before the services we provide begin to suffer, or are we going to do something about it today?

Scene Setting
So, what are the challenges we see in talent pipelines? We started off the discussion with some of our observations from the sector:

  • Senior leadership succession planning – where are the future Directors and Chief Executives – increasing numbers of people leaving the sector – retirement, early retirement/ lifestyle choice, pension restrictions, burnout.
  • Mid-tier talent pipelines – Service Manager to Assistant Director level – we are seeing that there are a reducing number of individuals ‘ready’ to make the move to middle level management roles. Why? – ‘Blockers’ in progression (people in more senior roles who have been in post for a long time), lack of investment in leadership development programmes (different to what we may see in other sectors such as NHS or civil service)
  • Entry-level training and development – investment in career grades, apprenticeships, accountants, legal, procurement, HR. Why? = short term thinking, headcount restrictions, investment/budget, not capitalising on apprenticeship levy.
  • ED&I – running throughout – the need to invest in developing diverse talent pipelines, promoting opportunity for under-represented groups, supporting under-represented groups to prepare for and apply for senior roles

What we are seeing here is that whilst we are seeing this in issues with recruitment, that it is only a symptom. The challenge is leadership and talent development and succession planning. The meaning of succession planning varies from one individual or organisation to another. The CIPD states that “succession planning focuses on identifying and growing talent to fill leadership and business critical positions in the future”. There is notable emphasis here on growing and nurturing talent, as well as simply identifying it.

Discussion Points

  • What is your organisation doing?
  • Who are your main competitors for talent? – Why is that?
  • Do you invest in graduates, trainees, apprenticeships?
  • What is your organisations approach to leadership development?
  • Do you know who your future directors might be?
  • Do you take a collective responsibility and understand that you may invest in talent development but that the investment may go to another authority, but that likewise talent from elsewhere may come to you?
  • How is your organisation inclusive to all talent that reflects the many diverse characteristics that we see in our workforce and communities?
  • Do you think about employer brand? – Not just of your individual organisation but as a whole sector. How do you distinguish yourself?

Group Feedback and ideas

  • The group welcomed the idea of coming together to share ideas and examples of innovative practice around this theme, recognising the need for creating the space and capacity to think strategically about the issues and opportunities
  • Reflecting on the profile of workforce transformation in our organisations – do we see this as transactional recruitment or real, transformational change looking at organisational design and the design of jobs? Do we have the skills and knowledge to do this effectively?
  • Progressive workforce characteristics, what do local government workers and leaders need to embrace/display? How are we recruiting for behaviors and competencies? Do we tailor our recruitment approach or are we recruiting in the same way for every role? How do we reflect neurodiversity in our recruitment practices? How do we remove the barriers to recruitment?
  • Talent movement – how can we work more collaboratively with each other and with partner organisations to promote opportunities for graduate and other placements across the sector to develop leadership capabilities?
  • Importance of incorporating talent into leadership development at all levels but particularly mid-senior managers
  • Is there scope for a North-West academy approach? We have a lot to offer and could be more dynamic in branding our offer and attracting new starters in local government who are looking for autonomy and purpose. How do we re-imagine local government in 5/10 years?
  • Relevance of tools such as market supplements v constraining frameworks such as Pay and Grading/job evaluation, risk of just going around in circles
  • Recruitment and retention is a key, strategic risk. How do we engage and influence Elected Members on this?
  • Would be helpful to understand the demographic data around retirement ages for the NW
  • How do we ensure workforce well-being and avoid burnout?
  • Could we develop a regional toolkit?

Commitments and Next Steps

This was a great discussion and led to a number of key actions being identified to take forward:

  • Group to reconvene to prioritise the key themes that will have the most impact; using an action learning approach with the next session focusing on Organisational Design ( focus on service and system redesign, rather than constant restructuring or repeat recruitment to address the current challenges)
  • North West Employers to facilitate a session to engage Elected Members in this important area
  • Consider our support for senior leaders – consolidating what’s needed/what’s likely to achieve the greatest impact
  • Identify the cultural enablers particularly amongst key senior officers and senior elected members to think about succession planning

The Road to Hybrid Working

Blog by Sharon Senior, Director at North West Employers, 12 May 2021

A year ago, if I’d have asked you what comes to mind when you hear the word “hybrid”, I’m guessing the answer would have been “a car”. It’s now the phrase being widely used to describe what the future of work might look like; a combination of homeworking and working from an office or other location.

Hybrid working, new ways of working, agile working – whatever you want to call it, one thing that is for sure, is that the way we work is changing. 

As lockdown restrictions ease, most organisations are now working through how to maintain some of the flexibility that remote working has highlighted.

Whilst many employees will have experienced working exclusively remotely during lockdown, fewer will have experienced a mixed model of both remote and office-based working.  So, what does this mean in practice? I wanted to share what I’m hearing across the North West and some of my own thoughts as a leader.

What I’m Hearing

A recent BBC poll of 50 of the UK’s largest employers, collectively employing 1.1 million people, found that 43 firms planned to use a mixture of home and remote working going forward, with employees encouraged to work from home two to three days a week.  This is echoed in the conversations I’ve been having with HR colleagues across the region with the majority of councils looking at options for a two to three day a week split where possible. One more radical approach is a pilot to try out homeworking by default, with employees only going into the workplace for 1 day a week when they need to collaborate.

Many organisations are carrying out staff surveys to better understand the preferences of their workforce and it’s expected that the results might be somewhat different to views this time 12 months ago. I know from my own organisation that some people who were really reluctant to work from home initially, have now found out that they quite like it and wouldn’t necessarily want to be back in the office 5 days a week.

There’s also talk of having bands or categories of workers, depending on whether roles have to be done at a fixed site, are mobile or can be done from anywhere.

What’s Your Destination?

All of this is throwing up lots of questions that organisations need to work through if we’re to successfully evolve from the temporary response into more of a longer-term mixed model. I’m not for one minute suggesting that I have all the answers and I think that’s a really important point. As senior leaders, we need to make sure that we’re clear on what our vision for the future of work is, but how this works in practice needs support and buy-in from managers and employees alike.

If we’re to be really flexible in the way that we work, a lot depends on the culture of the organisation. There needs to be trust. Trust that I’ll get the job done when it needs to be done. Trust that my colleagues will do what they say they’ll do. Trust in each other that we’re all striving to do the best we can for the organisation and each other.

I’ve read a lot about presenteeism and how managers of remote teams worry about how they can manage performance when they can’t see their team. I struggle with this to be honest and that might be from years of having worked in jobs where I have been out on the road a lot and so haven’t always been in the same place as my team from day to day. But even in those jobs where we have worked in close proximity, I don’t spend my time monitoring what everyone is doing – it goes back to my point above; it’s about trust and managing by outcomes. Of course, there’ll always be exceptions but that’s when you need to step in and manage by exception.

The Road Ahead

The changes pose a number of immediate questions relating to people policies. Organisations are working hard to review and refresh their approaches to agile working and flexible working to develop a framework that is future proof. There’s practical consideration needed on things like workspaces, equipment and health and safety.   

Light at the End of the Tunnel

We’ve learned a lot about what’s needed to support new ways of working over the last year or so and it’s important that we hold onto this as we look to the future. We’ve made massive leaps in terms of using digital technology to keep us connected so how do we build on this and ensure we have the skills and confidence to use technology to collaborate when there are some team members working from home and others in the office together?

We understand even more the importance of social contact and our mental wellbeing so we need to give thought as to how we enable this as part of our future plans.