February 2023: supporting early careers in local government

Across our sector we are increasingly seeing challenges with both recruitment and retention of employees, and the competition we face with other sectors. With short, medium and long-term challenges, it can feel like a never-ending cycle. However, investing in young people could be an important step in contributing to some of these challenges.

David Drewry, our lead adviser on early careers in local government, gives us some insight into what councils can do to encourage more young people to work in our sector.

David Drewry

I love February. Not only does it mean that we’ve got through January but its also because we get to celebrate National Apprenticeship Week, which this year is expanding to include a focus on T Levels (Thursday 9 February). 

While, of course, it is great celebrating this week and engaging with young people and early careers is brilliant, a focus is needed all year round.

The Institute of Employment Studies has recently published its ‘making young people a vital part of every workforce’ report, which has highlighted some interesting findings. Despite the UK’s recruitment challenges, the research has found that one-fifth of employers do not hire from the 22-25 age group, two-fifths do not hire from the 18-21 age group and two-thirds did not hire from the 16-17 group. It has also been found that young people are looking for an interesting and fulfilling job, in their preferred sector with fair and good pay.

When you look at findings like this, it can seem that we may add to the challenges that our sector is already facing. However, focusing on early careers and young people may be a contributing factor to reducing some of our obstacles. Young people aged 18-25 are 30 per cent more likely to be looking for work. Developing a strategy that focuses on recruiting young people into entry level roles is a beneficial way of creating a future workforce pipeline.

The National Graduate Development Programme and apprenticeships are an important tool of recruiting individuals into early careers. Many councils up and down the country have seen the benefits, with these programmes clearly being great recruitment ideas. Hiring young people into entry level roles through apprenticeships or the NGDP scheme is a great way of managing the journey for services you have recruitment challenges.

An early careers strategy can be a great starting point to understand what your council is currently doing, and to identify its aims.

Currently employers were most likely to engage young people through:

  • universities (37 per cent
  • colleges (34 per cent)
  • apprenticeships and training (51 per cent)
  • and paid internships and work experience (44 per cent).

There are many ways our sector can actively engage with young people. Councils have been hosting industry placements as part of T Levels, attending career fairs, and promoting opportunities through their local providers. I recently spoke to Mansfield Council who have created their own Career Ambassador Programme, which engages their employees and young people. This has been a fantastic opportunity to promote local government as a preferred sector.

Providers are always looking to work with employers, so this is a great way of promoting local government. Further opportunities to engage with young people could be offering work experience/internships, leading class talks, employer set projects or tours of the council. There will be many more ideas and opportunities to promote local government and engage young people.

The LGA will shortly be publishing its early careers toolkit, which includes resources and information for councils to engage young people. What is important, is to hear what councils are doing to engage young people and to build in entry level roles into their workforce. We are always looking for case studies to celebrate, so I welcome hearing what councils are currently doing to engage young people and early careers.

Next steps? For any organisation it is important to review where your next generation of employees are going to come from. An early careers strategy can be a great starting point to understand what your council is currently doing, and to identify its aims. A council does not need to offer every initiative, however, a blend will help with your recruitment and promoting local government.

In the meantime, you can use our early careers resources on the website and have a look at our age inclusion webpage that has a great series of videos from Kingston Council on the benefits of reverse mentoring.

You can contact us on [email protected] if you have any questions about how to support more young people to work for your organisation, or if you have a story about your work on this that you’d like to share.