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06 March 2017

Growing Our Own Staff - St Albans City and District Council

Forty apprenticeships have been created over the past five years by St Albans City and District Council as part of a new approach to recruitment.

The posts are part of a "grow-our-own" strategy that also focuses on providing existing staff with opportunities to acquire new skills and develop their careers.

In another move, the Council is targeting qualified local people who are fed up with the daily commute to London and want to work closer to home.

An advertising campaign designed to appeal to them has been developed with digital posters placed at London St Pancras rail station platforms.

James Blake, the Council's Chief Executive, gave a presentation on the initiatives to the New Local Government Network's national conference at the Guildhall, London.

He said: "In 2015, we found ourselves facing significant recruitment and staff retention challenges. With St Albans only a short train ride away from the booming economy of central London, recruiting and retaining employees in high demand professional roles such as planning and surveying can be tricky.

"In response we are focusing on bringing in new talent and bringing on those who are already here.

"We have developed schemes for school leavers, recent graduates, managers and potential leaders that we have identified from among our workforce.

"We offer apprenticeships in areas where it is hard to recruit such as planning and we have also recruited more graduates, who quickly get to take on high profile roles.

"We have two leadership programmes including a bespoke programme developed in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire. This is giving all line managers, from team leaders to heads of service, the skills needed to develop the talent in their teams."

Mr Blake said the Council is working in partnership with several other organisations to fulfil its ambitious mission to nurture its own talent.

Oaklands College of further education, which is based in the District, has developed some of the apprenticeship training in professions such as town planning.

The college's Commercial Director Nicole Sadd said: "Oaklands is working closely with the Council to help find solutions to local skills gaps that were adversely affecting local services. This is evident in our strong partnership, and the successful launch of the Town Planning Apprenticeship."

Now the Council is also working with the Royal Town Planning Institute in a Trailblazer Group to develop apprenticeships of degree standard.

Mr Blake said that the new approach has resulted in a dramatic improvement in the Council's ability to fill vacancies and hold onto its staff.

As a result, unplanned turnover plummeted from 14% in the year 2015/16 to less than 5% in the first half of 2016/17.

In planning, turnover has dropped from 25% to 7%, allowing the Council to eliminate a backlog of planning applications.

The advertising campaign on rail station platforms has been bolstered by adverts on commercial radio and YouTube videos made by existing staff.

These highlight the advantages of working, as well as living, in St Albans, including avoiding the stressful daily commute to London.

The Council has also promoted the sometimes hidden advantages of working for a public organisation.

Benefits include a generous pension scheme, part-time and flexible hours, working from home and a flat management structure that has created a modern office culture.

Mr Blake said: "Public sector organisations can make much more of the opportunities they offer to do a rewarding job and put something back into the community.

"We might not be able to always match the salaries available at private sector firms, so we have to put the emphasis on the whole package of benefits that we can offer staff, including being able to work locally.

"We also offer a wide range of career development opportunities to enhance people's careers.

"It is pleasing to see that the policy is working with turnover down in key departments."

The Council's approach has been entered for two categories in the MJ Achievement Awards 2017, Workforce Transformation and Senior Leadership Team.

To view the staff YouTube video, see here: http://bit.ly/2lLxwNr

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