Workforce, Pensions and Training

26.02.18

A new approach to training

Source: PSE Feb/March 2018

Acting chief executive of Cheshire East Council, Kath O’Dwyer, reflects on how a simple change in approach has begun to reap real dividends for the organisation.

Training and developing your staff is a principle that should be at the core of every organisation. But maintaining the momentum and seizing the opportunities can be tough and can lose its priority amidst other competing demands.

Our staff are our greatest asset and we are fortunate to have valued colleagues at Cheshire East, many of whom are proud ambassadors for the council. It is very important to us that staff are working in an environment where they are valued, supported and developed. When we get that right, greater levels of productivity and value are the positive by-products.

We are an ambitious council that delivers more than 500 services to our residents. We strive to provide high-quality services while meeting budget challenges and maximising the real economic opportunities that are on the horizon, like the regional benefits of HS2 coming to Crewe. Underpinning all our efforts, every day, is our information, communications and technology (ICT) service.

Our ICT service provides support and change services to two councils, Cheshire West and Chester Council and Cheshire East Council, along with their associated companies, schools and academies. The service includes strategy, account management, digital, architecture, operations and service management teams.

Short-term pain, long-term gain

In December 2015, our ICT service was reliant on roughly 40-45% of its workforce coming from agencies. While this gave the organisation the ability to bring in specialist resources on a flexible basis, the model was difficult to sustain and came with a far greater cost burden. With local authorities having to look towards financial self-reliance, it was obvious that a more sustainable model was required.

Faced with a difficult decision two years ago between taking a short-term, piecemeal approach or a more long-term view, which would involve a combination of upskilling existing staff and training new recruits, we took the long-term investment view and made a clear commitment to invest in our workforce.

Short-term pain for long-term gain is an overused expression, but that was the reality of what we needed to do to really invest in the future and truly address a resourcing issue in our ICT workforce that had been around for too long. We had a huge ambition to transform what we do and we developed a plan for how we would do it.

The service engaged with its staff through stakeholder events and workshops, working together to identify a different approach. As staff engagement and morale continued to head in an upward direction, so did our ICT service’s ambitions for training.

Once we’d taken that initial step we knew there was no turning back, and we went into the change programme confidently ‒ with the full backing of both our colleagues in training and development, and across both councils at a political and an executive level.

Library discussion for PSE edit

Gains from the apprenticeship levy

The government’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy last year was another big boost to our colleagues in ICT. We recognised this as a real opportunity to introduce ‘digital natives’ into the organisation and so we seized upon the opportunity immediately.

The ICT team now has digital apprentices on degree programmes at Manchester Metropolitan University, and they are all easing into our own working environment, while sharing latest industry developments with a workforce who are now far more open to learn.

We also have a digital degree apprentice, who is already working as an IT manager in one of our local high schools. It really is a win/win situation.

The next steps for ICT are to see how we can further maximise the benefit from the apprenticeship levy to improve the skills and capabilities throughout the organisation, not just at entry level.

While our ICT team has led the way with a fresh attitude towards training and staff development, the introduction of the apprenticeship levy is having a positive knock-on effect right across the council.

We are putting three new apprentices who are existing staff members in our legal team through schemes via the apprenticeship levy, and a further role in our procurement team.

The number of apprenticeships have risen significantly across all service areas up to 86 people, some completely new to the council, others valued colleagues who are increasing their skills, since the introduction of the programme in May 2017. New planning degrees may well see apprentices taken on in the very near future in our development management team, while we also have plans to introduce apprentices in social work from September 2018.

And it doesn’t stop with our direct council services. The apprenticeship levy has the potential to have a tremendous impact upon our schools.

We have already had some very positive discussions with headteachers about the support we can offer them in introducing colleagues to the new graduate teaching apprenticeships, as well as schemes which will bring new standards for school business managers and teaching assistants.

We also want to develop plans for apprenticeships linked to our cared-for children strategy and to further diversify the range of apprenticeships we offer to include a programme for colleagues in revenue and benefits, data analysts and community enforcement staff, to name but a few.

This is all over and above the structured management development programme we introduced in April last year which offers management qualifications at A-level, foundation degree, degree and masters level for managers and those who aspire to management roles.

The possibilities of the apprenticeship levy are very exciting. We’re reviewing this all the time with our workforce development team, and we’re now developing talent management programmes to ensure that our whole workforce accesses the benefit of our commitment to training and development.

As an authority, something like the apprenticeship levy can open doors to learning across so many disciplines, especially areas where we have traditionally struggled to retain and recruit staff.

It certainly came at the right time for us and complemented our vision and ambition, and our commitment to invest in our workforce. We will continue to make the most of the opportunities that it creates.

Our ability to recognise a problem area of service provision and turn it into an opportunity has enabled us to maximise the benefits that the apprenticeship levy provides. It has certainly helped to direct our approach in both this last financial year and into the future. I’m sure that it will continue to be a valuable resource to many other authorities too.

 

FOR MORE INFORMATION
W: www.cheshireeast.gov.uk

Comments

There are no comments. Why not be the first?

Add your comment

 

related

public sector executive tv

more videos >

latest public sector news

Leeds sets out plan to become one of world’s first zero-carbon energy economies

17/12/2018Leeds sets out plan to become one of world’s first zero-carbon energy economies

Leeds City Region is aiming to become one of the world’s first zero-carbon regions as it sets out a new energy strategy to meet the Paris C... more >
Council mergers: taking local government by storm

17/12/2018Council mergers: taking local government by storm

It’s no secret that councils up and down the country are scrambling to keep services afloat as they try to balance dwindling resources with... more >
National Social Value Conference 2018: Going upstream

17/12/2018National Social Value Conference 2018: Going upstream

PSE’s Daniel Broadley reflects on the key messages to take away from this year’s National Social Value Conference, which took place o... more >

editor's comment

25/10/2017Take a moment to celebrate

Devolution, restructuring and widespread service reform: from a journalist’s perspective, it’s never been a more exciting time to report on the public sector. That’s why I could not be more thrilled to be taking over the reins at PSE at this key juncture. There could not be a feature that more perfectly encapsulates this... read more >

last word

The importance of openness after Grenfell

The importance of openness after Grenfell

Following the recent Grenfell Tower tragedy, Lord Porter, chairman of the LGA, argues that if the public are going to have faith in the safety testing process then everything must be out in the o... more > more last word articles >
Local government finance settlement: short-term needs met with 2.4% boost

13/12/2018Local government finance settlement: short-term needs met with 2.4% boost

The annual local government finance settlement shows that the government has recognised short-term pressures facing local government — but it is yet to solve medium to long-term financial d... more >
Local government finance settlement delayed by Brexit

05/12/2018Local government finance settlement delayed by Brexit

The announcement of the local government funding settlement has been delayed as Parliament looks to grapple with Brexit. In a statement released this afternoon, communities secretary Ja... more >

the raven's daily blog

Don’t let a culture of resistance take hold of your organisation

17/12/2018Don’t let a culture of resistance take hold of your organisation

If we want to introduce change throughout local government, then we have to encourage our people to buy-in, writes Danny Longbottom, director of local government and health at BT. In my role I have the privilege of meeting lots of people in local government across the UK. More often than not, the subject of digital transformation crops up... more >
read more blog posts from 'the raven' >

comment

Council mergers: taking local government by storm

17/12/2018Council mergers: taking local government by storm

It’s no secret that councils up and down the country are scrambling to keep services afloat as they try to balance dwindling resources with... more >
National Social Value Conference 2018: Going upstream

17/12/2018National Social Value Conference 2018: Going upstream

PSE’s Daniel Broadley reflects on the key messages to take away from this year’s National Social Value Conference, which took place o... more >
LGA Autumn Budget round up

17/12/2018LGA Autumn Budget round up

Chairman of the LGA Lord Porter puts the chancellor’s Autumn Budget under the microscope and looks at what it means for local government. ... more >
The digital buying community is live

12/11/2018The digital buying community is live

Many of the requirements from buyers posted on the Digital Marketplace were either non-compliant or poorly worded, which resulted in challenges f... more >

interviews

Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

17/12/2018Digital innovation in the public sector: The future is now

One of the public sector’s key technology partners has recently welcomed a new member to its team. Matt Spencer, O2’s head of public ... more >
Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

17/12/2018Artificial intelligence: the devil is in the data

It’s no secret that the public sector and its service providers need to invest in technology to help make better use of their resources. Bu... more >
New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

05/11/2018New Dorset Councils CEO on the creation of a new unitary: ‘This is going to be the right decision for Dorset’

The new chief executive of one of the new unitary authorities in Dorset has outlined his approach to culture and work with employees, arguing tha... more >
Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

15/10/2018Keeping the momentum of the Northern Powerhouse

On 6 September, the biggest decision-makers of the north joined forces to celebrate and debate how to drive innovation and improvement through th... more >

public sector focus

View all News