Recruitment - Workforce news, September 2016


In this video we look at the suddenly very complex area of recruitment. 

To contact the Workforce Team about any comments and ideas email: workforce@local.gov.uk.

Podcast transcript

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 00:15 – 01:13)
Hi and welcome to the latest edition of Workforce News. Today we're looking at the suddenly very complex area of recruitment; things have become a bit uncertain. We have lots of external pressures on us arising from Brexit, for example, and whether we can keep or recruit new workers from Europe. We've also got some uncertainty around all the apprenticeships that we talked about in the last podcast and if you add onto all of that all the transformation programmes and what that means for the changing skills and changing jobs that we need and what kind of deal we can possibly offer these people you can see it's become a bit difficult, a bit challenging in the area of recruitment for councils. So with us today to talk about all of these issues we have Sarah Messenger, who is the Head of Workforce here at LGA and also Karen Grave, who's the head of HR at Gloucestershire County Council and also the Joint Vice President of the PPMA. So, Sarah, it's suddenly looking a bit tough for councils in terms of recruitment, isn't it?

Sarah Messenger, Head of Workforce, LGA
(Time: 01:14 – 02:35)
I think it is tough at the moment, there are the ongoing challenges of recruiting to difficult to fill areas like Social Work and Planning. There's also the challenge of thinking about the new or different skills that we either need to develop within our existing workforce or find amongst new people and all of that's important as we redesign and redeliver public services. There are I think some other challenges that have arisen out of some of the changing political context. So the financial context within which councils are operating I think is important to think about in terms of the competitiveness of our reward package. Brexit of course opens up a whole new range of questions and issues that councils will be thinking about in terms of both their existing and their future workforce. But I also think there are some challenges arising from the expectations of the people we want to come and work for us in the future, I mean, working in councils is still a fantastic job, but we need to be constantly thinking about the fact that many of the new people we want to come and work for us will have different expectations around the way that jobs are designed, the type of work we're asking them to do and the amount of flexibility and control they've got in terms of when and how they do their job. So I think all of that together does provide a, kind of, range of challenging things for councils to think about.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 02:35 – 02:39)
Karen, can you tell us what effect is this having on councils?

Karen Grave, HR, Gloucestershire County Council
(Time: 02:40 – 04:24)
Well, I think there are a number of effects, I think they range from us dealing with the challenges that Sarah talked about with the known hard to recruit skill areas, so social work, for example and the planners that Sarah has mentioned. I think there are a number of other flavours on this; we don't just need to think about recruiting new people in actually, we also need to harness our existing workforce who we also will need to work in slightly different ways and sometimes the challenge of existing job structures actually impacts both existing workforce members as opposed to new people. I guess another thing I reflect on quite a lot is that we are competing not just with other local authorities, but there are other public service areas. So particularly in the area of integration with our health colleagues, there are a huge amount of challenges there where we're trying to attract people who might be used to different terms and conditions, but where actually the roles that we're trying to build will span a number of different workforces. And the other we've been grappling with recently in my part of the world is recruitment in a volunteer...the community sector and the independent sector. So it's massively complex, but I suspect that some of the underlying drivers are actually quite stable across the piece. It's about how we use our brain power really to redesign what we've already got at our disposal to make it work for an existing and a new workforce. And the age range actually we were very worried about under 25's at one stage, but actually we really need to worry about a broad range of ages because we'll still be knocking on for a good few years yet.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 04:25 – 04:52)

As Karen mentioned we are going to have to start doing things differently both for our existing staff and our new staff and we've got two councils who are going to tell us about projects they've been doing on different things with recruitment and retention. First of all, we've got Andy Wilson from HR in South Hams District Council and he's going to talk to us about his move to values based recruitment. Andy, can you tell us what is it that's different about recruitment for you?

Andy Wilson, HR, South Hams District Council
(Time: 04:52 – 06:09)

Well, I think to start with I'll say that at South Hams and West Devon we don't tend to use the word ‘recruitment', we use ‘assessment' because what we do now is we assess people against a set of agreed behaviours, a behavioural framework and we've called Impact. This is really important for us because we've gone through a huge transformation programme where we've redesigned all our services and we've redesigned all our jobs. This meant that everybody in the organisation needed to be assessed against the new jobs. We've worked with some consultants and occupational psychologist to develop both the behavioural framework and also an assessment process firmly based on those behaviours. So the structure of our assessment process is a one hour structured interview with an occupational psychologist asking questions directly about behaviour. We don't ask questions about technical ability, people give their answers based on their technical experience, but what we're looking for is evidence of their behaviours. We supplement that with a secondary assessment process, which for more senior officers is a topic based discussion where we ask them some very general questions about the future of local government and engage in a conversation with them and again we're looking very much for the evidence of behaviours; it's about how they do things rather than what they do.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 06:09 – 06:12)

Andy, what's been the most difficult bit about making these changes?

Andy Wilson, HR, South Hams District Council
(Time: 06:14 – 07:13)

I think the most difficult bit for our existing staff when we asked them to go through an assessment was the fact that they hadn't been through a recruitment exercise in many years and they certainly hadn't had one based on a set of behaviours. They also had to face the prospect of actually being made redundant if they didn't meet the behavioural standards we were looking for; so that was really tough and people have found it quite difficult to come to terms with that. Moving forward as we bring new people into the organisation we found some of our people, particularly professional people, find it quite difficult to be asked questions that are not specifically around their technical competence so that throws them a little bit. I think quite quickly they realised that in answering questions around behaviours they're able to bring in their technical experience and answer the questions properly and I think without exception the people we brought into the organisation have agreed that it was a really positive process. It really allowed them the opportunity to express themselves and shine and they've all become great assets to the council now.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 07:13 – 07:16)

And finally, Andy, can you tell us how has this helped the council?

Andy Wilson, HR, South Hams District Council
(Time: 07:16 – 07:35)

It's been really important for us to have the right people in the building. Using this assessment approach means that right from word go we're bringing in people who understand the values we're trying to instil, so they understand what we expect of them and what they can expect of their colleagues. So the building now is full of the right people delivering the right services for our communities.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 07:36 – 08:04)

Thank you Andy. We're now going to chat to James Blake, he's the Chief Executive of St Albans City Council; he's going to tell us about a project he's leading with the councils in the east of England around the challenges of recruiting and retaining planners. Now, planners are key to us delivering our economic growth agenda in council, so this is a really important project. James, can you talk to us about what the challenges are around recruiting and retaining planners?

James Blake, Chief Executive of St Albans City Council
(Time: 08:05 – 09:36)

Well, it's a really big issue for councils right across the south-east and of course for us here, which is why we did this review with East of England LGA of councils across the East of England region and the challenges they're facing in recruiting and retaining planners. For example, when the report was done there were, I think, over 114, around 114 vacancies across just the East of England region; we'd have a similar picture in London in the south-east. In my own council here in St Albans at one point last year we had of a team of 27 we had 13 vacancies in the team, of which 7will have to be covered by agency staff, so it really is, if you like, the district council social care and that's the way we see it. In terms of what the report found, as well as capacity, which was clearly an issue in its own right, there are other issues too. The speed of turnover was a major factor with people often staying only a year or so in their roles and that's because of course we're in the commuter belt in many of the councils in this region so we're competing with both private sector agencies in London and other councils and that's been getting worse as the economy has strengthened. There's a particular issue too around the most specialist roles, the more senior roles and also an ageing workforce in planning where increasingly perhaps in recent years in the recession younger planners didn't come into the profession so that talent hasn't been coming through.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 09:36 – 09:39)

And James, how are you planning to resolve these issues?

James Blake, Chief Executive of St Albans City Council
(Time: 09:40 – 11:29)

We had a really good event as part of the review in Cambridge where we brought together experts from across the profession, both the HR profession, the planning profession and other professional bodies. Yeah and what was clear was that the solutions are already out there; there are people in individual councils doing the things we need to do and the review's brought those things together. If I just summarise the main themes that are coming out; the first is much clearer promotion of career pathways in planning, there's a fantastic career you can have as a planner. You can come in perhaps gain an apprenticeship, but we don't   promote that at the moment and there's a really attractive offer that we need to making to new graduates, new apprentices as part of this work. That links to promoting the profession of planning more generally, it's a fantastic job being a planner; you're responsible for shaping a place for the future and sometimes I think we hide our light under a bushel in that area, so there's much more we can do on that. The third area is making the most of what we've got; we should be collaborating much more between councils particularly where there are specialists in individual councils, whether that's on a greenbelt or a historic conservation. There's the   opportunity there for thinking about shared posts much more than perhaps we've done at the moment. The other thing that came out I think was that we should be thinking in local government about how making our recruitment more flexible. Obviously we've got important terms and conditions that's part of the offer that we make, but there is scope I think to be more flexible and that will help us compete better with the private sector. And then finally, there are I think identified some practical or cultural blockages that we can seek to address. So, for example, there are training courses that aren't at the moment accredited by the professional bodies; if they could be that would be a real help.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 11:29 – 11:39)

Thank you James. So, Sarah, Karen, lots of really interesting, really important work going on there in councils. What are we doing at a national level to support this work?

Sarah Messenger, Head of Workforce, LGA
(Time: 11:39 – 13:18)

We're doing a lot of things at national level and I think they, kind of, come under the different, sort of, headings that you heard from Andy and James in terms of the challenges. So, for example, some of the things we're doing are around how we actually attract people to come and work in the sector or come back into the sector and perhaps the best example of that is the Come Back to Social Work Campaign, which will be   launched in September, which obviously is aimed at people returning to social work as a profession. There are also initiatives which are around trying to address some of those challenges in terms of making councils really attractive places to come and work. So we've been working with Timewise in terms of accrediting Timewise Councils and looking creatively at flexible working in the workplace, but we're also looking... And that includes looking at how we design jobs and we're also doing some thought pieces, we've been working with the New Local Government Network thinking about what the deal is for people coming to work in the sector. Conventionally perhaps it was a job for life, a good pension, an annual increment and so on; that agenda has moved on and we need to think about and redefine what people coming to work in the sector will    get. And the final thing I wanted to mention was the fantastic piece of work that we've done jointly with PPMA and Solace, which is to bring to life the amazing 21st Century Public Servant research and on the 15th of July we launched a brilliant new book called Walk Tall, which is full of engaging stories about what it is public servants do on a day-to-day basis in the 21st Century.

Karen Grave, HR, Gloucestershire County Council
(Time: 13:18 – 14:47)

And just following up on that one of the other things that a number of councils are doing, including ours, is joint recruitment activities with other health partners. We are certainly starting to get some traction with that on the ground, which it's just really powerful to be able to work with your partners, isn't it, to take a proposition to the market place. And on Walk Tall, Sarah is absolutely right, that has two real advantages, I think; it both... It celebrates the fantastic work that's going on day in and day out, up and down the country from the lowest grades to the highest grades everybody is making the most enormous contribution. But what that work also does is it gives us a mind-set that lets us think about what is the type of workforce that we actually need to create to support very changeable circumstances. So Sarah talked earlier, the future, maybe three   months down the line, we're not talking years' progress, things are happening so quickly as we know over the last few months. But Walk Tall, the notion of these workforce characteristics will give us more flexibility on the ground to think about, you know, potentially do we have different ways of working around job design for a particular part of the workforce and that will potentially give us some real flexibility that we might not have had previously. So we will be doing much more about this with our three organisations over the months and the years to come, I hope.

Luann Donald, Senior Workforce Adviser, LGA
(Time: 14:47 – 15:07)

Thank you Karen, thank you Sarah. As always you can find lots more information about this topic on our website and if you have any comments or ideas that you'd like to share with us on the topic you can contact us on the usual email address which is workforce@local.gov.uk.