Young and in Gov’s wall of success – 21st March 2013

I love a good business manual. I first read ‘Who Moved My Cheese’ when I was 15 and struggling to cope with managerial changes at the restaurant I waitressed at part-time, and have been known to quote the Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People on dates in the past. Accordingly, I have just finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean in’, the latest to join my rather crowded bookshelf of business (and self) improvement guides.

Whilst Sandberg’s book is undeniably a feminist manifesto, much of the hard data and findings are applicable to a wider range of issues in the workplace. For instance, Sandberg asserts that a more diverse workforce reaches better decisions. That, because working with a range of successful individuals makes us in turn more successful, we all ought to strive and fight for diversity as it will – ultimately – benefit us all.

As I say, it is a book which focuses on the role of women in the workplace and the home. However, whilst reading it I was drawn again and again to the idea of a diverse workforce, and how far we still are from achieving that in local government, despite significant progress. Primarily, as a fairly recent graduate, I worried about the age profile of the sector, and the impact this could have on decision-making, progress and the future.

When I first blogged about being “young and in gov” late last year, I did so selfishly. As a consultant it is extremely difficult to meet younger officers within authorities, to build my own informal network of friends and to learn more about what is happening in the sector. I wanted like-minded enthusiastic people, at similar stages in our careers, to get in touch with me so that we could build this network ourselves. I was also acutely aware of the importance of harnessing the enthusiasm of this more junior workforce, celebrating it, and ensuring that the leaders of the future do not give up before they get there. There is no denying that this is a stressful and intense time to join the public sector workforce, and that what organisations ask of their staff is increasingly tough. Our second event last night proved that such a network can be an inspiring way to meet like-minded people and actually enjoy networking

However, I had – perhaps naively – never considered the wider implications of a workforce so low on younger staff. 18% of local government employees are aged 55 or over, according to the LGA, compared to 14% in the private sector. Even more astoundingly, 17% of private sector workers are under 25, compared with just 6% in local government.

So what are we missing out on? I am not pretending that, were local government to boast more of these less experienced staff, they would be negotiating LEP deals and selling their area to multinational corporations. Instead, they would simply diversify the workforce, and everyone would benefit. I am fortunate at BDO to work in a relatively diverse team. In the two years I have worked here, I have often come up with new ideas about how we use social media, how we can help local authorities or how to fix the graph of doom (the latter on a rather strange Friday afternoon after far too many coffees). Not all of these ideas have gone down well with my boss. Some have. The point is, in employing me as a graduate consultant the team were able to benefit from my fresh faced enthusiasm and passion for local government, and I have in turn benefitted from their experience and knowledge.

It is crucial that authorities do this. The NGDP is great, and I’m glad to see more authorities investing in it after a poor few years, but 90 graduates a year in a workforce of 1,697,100 is a drop in the ocean. Yes, we need to attract graduates, and we need to nurture them so that they feel motivated to stay, but we also need to understand and recognise the benefits of a diverse workforce at all levels and in all positions. Future leaders will emerge from the process, but the problem is immediate.


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