Training the next generation at Ashford Borough Council

Source: PSE Feb/March 2019

Local councils around the UK are getting creative to attract the younger generation into the sector, and Ashford Borough Council is at the forefront of this innovation. Michelle Pecci, head of human resources and customer services at the authority, tells more on Ashford’s new scheme to bring more young people into local government.

When thinking about their future vocation, young people might not consider local government as their first choice. They may simply assume that the sector is not one of the most exciting places they could gain work experience and develop their career.

However, at Ashford Borough Council we have already been turning this preconception on its head. Innovation drives success in our local area, and leading the way is something we are proud of in Ashford and we are recognised as one of the most entrepreneurial local authorities in the UK.

In operating like a business, we have already made great strides in transforming from a traditional local authority to become a commercial organisation, with a host of major developments changing the skyline of the borough.

In 2019, our approach is the exact same: our planning committee has already given the green light to the transformation of land known as ‘the Island Site’ into a mixed-use campus called The Coachworks. This will provide a co-working space aimed at start-up businesses, flexible indoor and outdoor event space, and a food and drink destination showcasing local producers and suppliers.

Not only this, but we have also officially launched Ashford’s ‘Year of the Environment’ – a major tree planting project that has been devised to enhance and develop local areas in line with inspirations of civic pride. However, our approach is not limited to investing in the commercial and environmental elements shaping our future, we have also been investing in young minds… and to great effect.

We already have a successful National Graduate Development Programme, which has brought us graduate talent with fresh thinking, a wealth of technological knowledge, and a ‘can-do’ approach to projects.

The young people who have joined us through this scheme have been able to build a considerable skill base across a range of service areas, working at all levels across the council, using their transferable skills to learn and to lead.

Now, we are setting our sights on our local undergraduates with a scheme to support them in developing their career by providing a good-quality work placement as well as financial assistance for their studies.

Going to university is a big financial commitment which can create strain on families and may result in compromises on the course and location of study to keep costs down. But at Ashford, we want to give every young person the opportunity to excel in their field without the burden and stress of finances that come with university. The council’s scheme will provide a summer work placement that will support students, along with a bursary of up to £3,000 to a local undergraduate student for each year of their studies (up to a maximum of four years).

Applications will open this spring with the first successful candidate commencing their placement within our planning department this summer. Each year a new undergraduate will be taken on within a different department across the organisation.

Cllr Alan Pickering, portfolio holder for HR and customer services, said: “I am very much in support of this scheme as an investment in our community and the excellent opportunity it will provide for our young residents.

“This scheme will set Ashford apart as a place where local talent can develop their career and we are excited to watch our successful candidates grow and be a part of their journey.”


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