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A healthy state of affairs at Chesire East Council

Source: PSE Dec/Jan 2019

Mark Palethorpe, acting executive director of people at Cheshire East Council, explains what the Skills for Care graduate management programme could mean for the adult social care workforce.

Recruiting into adult social care is a big challenge for any local authority in the current climate, and Cheshire East Council is not immune to that.

One key area my team has been looking at in the last year or two is how to encourage new graduates to see how their talents, skills, and boundless enthusiasm can fit into a career within adult social care. Frankly, this has never been a straightforward thing to do, and has required us to look at the challenge holistically, exploring potential alternative solutions.

In the early part of 2016, we met with Lindsey Dawson, a locality manager from workforce development charity Skills for Care, to discuss how our adult social care team could benefit from recruiting graduates from their graduate management programme. At the time, it was just a conversation – a discussion about the various challenges we both faced. I had a good knowledge about Skills for Care and the broad picture of their work, but admit that partnering up with them as part of a graduate programme wasn’t something that I thought would be feasible, both from a financial and logistical position.

Finding and funding talented graduates to work with your key personnel, setting them up to understand the complex workings of a local authority, and asking them to make meaningful contributions to extremely complicated working projects, may seem like a huge leap of faith. The truth of the matter is, however, that opportunities like these will become commonplace in time as the adult social care industry desperately needs leaders in the future who intuitively understand a range of working environments.

The world of work today is a very different place to the one that many of us grew up in. As a society, we are being put under more and more pressure to be multiskilled and take on multifaceted roles in complex integrated environments. This is where our relationship with Skills for Care has been such a big step forward for us.

Not long after that initial meeting with Lindsey, we started to look at how we could bring graduates into our organisation to support our adult social care team, and I’m so pleased with how itʼs going.

We’ve had four outstanding candidates from the Skills for Care graduate management programme already (pictured outside Cheshire East Council’s headquarters in Sandbach). Kadie and Lucy will finish their placement with us soon – after completing their one-year leadership development programme – and enter the job market, while Douglas and Nadia are right at the beginning of their journey.

All four have been fantastic ambassadors for the council and, regardless of whether they go on to have long careers within this authority or elsewhere in the sector, I am very confident they will enjoy great success.

The graduates have had an excellent level of training from Skills for Care. And after completing their university degrees, coupled with the practical environments that they’ve already been exposed to, I feel confident that we are doing our bit to fill a skills gap which has been widening.

Skills for Care’s chief executive, Sharon Allen, is convinced that their graduate programme is enabling both public- and private-sector organisations to recruit the best talents.

She said: “It’s crucial we invest in new talent to drive positive change and to ensure the sector is prepared to face future challenges. I’m certain each of our graduates and their host organisations will benefit immensely from being part of the programme.”

I think it’s the flexibility of our graduates which has impressed me the most. To see such versatility in their working approaches is something that bodes very well for the future, and will be something that they will come to rely on as they move forward in their careers.

So what about my initial concerns regarding the logistical and financial side of the arrangement? Well yes, it takes time. You need to have dedicated staff, who get a great sense of satisfaction from seeing young people grow into roles – but don’t forget that this works both ways too. That sense of urgency and passion with fresh ideas has really rubbed off on many of my colleagues in our various leadership teams. My message on that is clear: embrace it and see them flourish, and we will have managers for the future.

The second scepticism I had is important to all of us – the funding. Every penny we spend is under such great scrutiny. But we needn’t have worried – the graduates have proved fantastic value for money, and were immediately able to look at our work and develop new and efficient ways of doing things.

Jayne McCabe, graduate programme manager at Skills for Care, said: “The relationship that we enjoy with Cheshire East Council is one of the strongest that we have with any of our partner organisations. They quickly understood the benefits of our graduates and have truly reaped the dividends.”

My hope is that the graduates we have with us, at the moment, go on to enjoy great careers and make outstanding contributions to our sector. Naturally, I’m under no illusions – the challenges of the sector lie far deeper than programmes such as this one.

However, if we can demonstrate that the future leaders in adult social care are well-balanced, trained, and experienced people in the multiple work settings that exist in our sector, then that can only be a healthy state of affairs.


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