Helen Reeves, Programme Manager for the LGA’s National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP), gives us an insight into how they ensure the programme to recruit our future local government leaders is as diverse as possible.
The NGDP is one of the LGA’s flagship leadership programmes. Now recruiting for its 22nd cohort, it is designed to recruit the brightest and best public-sector minded graduates, and fast track their local government careers, creating the next generation of talented public sector managers.
For many existing senior managers in our sector, ensuring there is pipeline of talent for the future, to enable succession planning, has risen as a key concern – and the NGDP is one way to help plug that gap. Likewise, it offers a means of bringing fresh perspectives in to take on some of the thorny issues and challenges many councils across the country are facing.
The graduates hired on the programme, known as National Management Trainees (NMTs), are well regarded in the sector. The intensive multi-stage recruitment process the LGA runs – with all assessments designed bespoke for a local government setting – ensures that the graduates who start their careers in the 60 or so participating councils are high calibre and come with the right ethos, values and passion to hit the ground running.
Whilst the councils we work with are routinely impressed by the calibre of the graduates recruited through the scheme, we have also been keen to respond to council’s calls to see a greater diversity of candidates coming through. We agree that it’s crucial the graduates we recruit fully represent the communities they are going to serve.
To really get to grips with this and understand all the potential steps we could take to achieve this, we commissioned an equality and diversity review of the whole programme; we hired an independent consultant who also works regularly with the Civil Service Fast Stream on similar issues. She undertook a ‘root and branch’ approach for us, looking at all stages of the programme: from the initial marketing and promotion of the scheme prior to application, through all the recruitment stages, and on to life on the programme and beyond.
Part of this involved a deep dive into both the statistics, and experiences of, the last five cohorts of the NGDP. The results were really interesting. We found that women outnumber men year on year and this is increasing. We are seeing more applications from, and ultimately hiring, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates year on year. For Cohort 21 (the most recent cohort recruited at the time of the study), just under a quarter of applicants (who provided it) identified their ethnic origin as either BAME or another mixed background. There is also a greater proportion of candidates declaring a disability each year. Our multi-stage recruitment does not discriminate on gender or sexuality at any point.
Much of this is positive but there is also clear room to improve. The data also showed that BAME candidates are more likely to drop out, or be unsuccessful, as the recruitment progresses.
We also found that candidates from Russell Group universities are more likely to be successful in their applications. Applicants from Oxbridge also do well, despite the fact we do not market the NGDP on their campuses at all.
So how have we responded? Whilst a number of diversity issues clearly remain in the university system (we recruit a lot of our applicants direct from university, or soon after graduation, though the programme is open to those of any age with a 2:2 degree and the right to work in the UK) and this feeds down to us, there are nonetheless multiple levers we can pull.
We have since produced a detailed action plan covering all the recommendations from the review, and are taking steps in every single area identified. For example:
- aimed at broadening the range of people who apply: We have reviewed the way we market and promote the scheme, putting both the diversity of the programme, and the principles of inclusion it promotes, at the forefront. This has meant redesigning our website and the materials we use. We have also changed the approach we take to which university campuses we visit. We still promote the scheme far and wide, visiting campuses in every corner of the country, but we particularly make a point of targeting universities who rank well in diversity and social mobility indices.
- to prevent drop outs and candidates being put off: We have provided more information to applicants upfront, to demystify the application process and remove some of the fear factor which affects different candidates disproportionately. We are making an effort to routinely keep in touch with candidates in an informal but informative way throughout the multi-stage recruitment.
- to avoid bias during the recruitment stages: We have amended the online tests we use, and will be reviewing the full suite at all stages for the next cohort. We also be further enforcing the diversity and equality training we provided to assessors. We will routinely monitor the data on who is successful on each stage – as well as who drops out, not just who is unsuccessful.
- to ensure a positive experience once employed: We are working with councils to provide greater advice around the mental health and wellbeing of our graduates. We are also supporting graduates who establish their own networks – both a women’s network and a BAME network are flourishing.
Underpinning all of this is a commitment to routinely collect a full set of data at every stage of the process, which will enable us to review year on year how these changes are having an impact. We routinely ask for more qualitative feedback from both the graduates on the scheme and their council employers too.
As well as recruiting from our diverse national pool of the brightest and best candidates, you can:
- ‘grow your own’ rising stars who already work for you
- recruit specifically from your local area
- work collaboratively with partner authorities to host graduates.
- succession planning: create a pipeline of talent needed for the next generation of managers
- attract a diversity of candidates
- place graduates in the most challenging areas of your organisation
- become part of a national network
- an accredited learning and development programme.