The beauty of local government is that it does so much. The problem of working in (or, in my case, with) local government, is that we can never hope to experience it all. From social services and street cleansing, to libraries and registrars, each role is diverse and unique and requires a different set of skills and specialism.
Similarly, in my role at BDO, I get plenty of opportunities to work with local authorities, and their partners, to implement a diverse range of projects and programmes across the UK. I never, however, have the chance to experience things “from the other side of the table”, so to speak.
So how to fill this gap in my own experience, as well as the void left in some local government graduate schemes by shrinking training budgets? How can those of us with experience in one area of a large and diverse sector get a taste of another – and without wading straight in with a secondment or full time role?
My own experience has taught me the value of using my networks and speaking to people in order to solve practical challenges. Managers going ‘back to the floor’ must also appreciate how much more realistic and relevant their observations can be when they are able to speak to people and understand the challenges they are facing on a day to day basis, if only for a day or a week.
It’s by no means a panacea, but I have initiated a reciprocal, cross-organisational shadowing scheme, using the Young and in Gov network as a lever to spread the word to fellow enthusiastic local government types, who keen to experience a different field for a day or two. I hope this will offer some opportunity to learn about another area of work, or organisation, or perhaps (again, in the case of BDO) a different sector altogether.
So far I’ve had enough responses (from such varied areas of the sector as Children’s services, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office and the Prevent programme) to allow my colleagues to also get involved, inviting people to join our team for ‘a day in the life of a consultant’, before we will join them and learn more about their own role.
We often complain of people we work with ‘working in silos’ or of transformation programmes ‘not getting what we do’ and therefore recommending completely unworkable changes to current operations. In an environment where, increasingly, time is the only resource we can control and offer to others (and even this is, of course, limited), what better way to start breaking down these barriers than through younger, less experienced officers sharing their time and expertise with others?
Watch this space.